Paying Your Respects at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County

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To say that I wish the Flight 93 Memorial in Somerset County didn’t exist is a bit of an understatement. After all, the events of September 11, 2001, that led to United Airlines Flight 93 crashing into this field in rural Pennsylvania are something that no one alive on that day will ever forget.

On that fateful day, I had just started my freshman year of college and it was one of the very few days that I was homesick during my entire four years. Even now, as I write about it, despite not knowing anyone who was directly affected on that day, I still feel a wave of sadness come over me.

Despite know that it would be a very somber and moving experience, I’ve visited the Flight 93 Memorial twice: once during my first visit to the region and once to see the visitor center that opened in September 2015.

Visitor center at the Flight 93 National Memorial
The entrance to the Flight 93 National Memorial’s visitor center.

The roadway to the visitor center winds through barren fields for several miles between Route 30 and the visitor center. The memorial to those who died on Flight 93 is unique in that it isn’t located in the middle of bustling New York City or next to a military facility just outside of Washington, DC, but instead, in an empty field.

The Flight 93 visitor center sits on a hillside above the crash site. Imposing stone walls guide visitors along a path that follows the flight path that the plane was on just prior to the crash.

Visiting the Flight 93 National Memorial in Stoystown, Pennsylvania
Imposing stone walls lead visitors along the plane’s final flight path.

Before walking into the visitor center, continue to the end of the path. This spot features an overlook of the crash site far below. From here, you can see the Wall of Names that is located under the flight path, and, further in the distance, the large boulder that marks the spot of impact.

Inside the visitor center, a series of panels tell the story of the September 11th attacks and of Flight 93. These panels use everything from news clips to artifacts to tell the story of Flight 93 and the tragic events of that day.

Flight 93 National Memorial Crash Site
The end of the walkway features and view overlooking the crash site.

In my opinion, the most moving element is a series of telephones where visitors can listen to calls made from the doomed flight. It’s nearly impossible not to choke up as you listen to people leave message for loved ones from the plane.

There are also artifacts on display that were recovered from the wreckage. These include everything from pieces of the airplane to personal items of the passengers like driver’s licenses and tickets.

Overall, the visitor center is fairly basic, but incredibly well done. Fortunately, there are tissue boxes scattered throughout the center as its hard to leave with dry eyes.

Inside the visitor center at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
Inside the Flight 93 National Memorial’s visitor center.

The second section of the memorial is the crash site down below the visitor center. There are two trails that lead down to the crash site: one that’s roughly a mile in length and another that’s three-fourths of a mile. These can be made into a two-mile loop hike for those that want to walk. It’s also possible to drive to the bottom area and greatly shorten the walk.

If you visited the Flight 93 National Memorial prior to September 2015, this lower area was the complete memorial. Here a few placards tell the story of the crash and the men and women aboard the plane.

Visiting the Flight 93 Memorial near Somerset, Pennsylvania.
The Wall of Names at the Flight 93 National Memorial.

At the end of the lower walkway is a wall that contains 40 panels, one for each innocent passenger and crew member on the flight. Each panel has the name of one person killed in the crash etched onto it.

 

Looking out over the field, you’ll notice a large boulder in the middle. It was placed by the National Park Service to mark the spot where the nose of the plane plummeted into the ground.

The open plaza contains several signs with information about the events of September 11, 2001 and Flight 93.
The open plaza contains several signs with information about the events of September 11, 2001, and Flight 93.
Thinking back on my visit to the Flight 93 National Memorial, it’s amazing to think back on that day in 2001. While I think that it’s a very important place for people spending time in Somerset County to visit, it definitely will leave you with a somber feeling.

Still, this visit to some of the most hollowed ground in Pennsylvania should not be missed by anyone traveling through Laurel Highlands.


Flight 93 Memorial

Hours:Daily: 9a-5p
Grounds open dawn to dusk

Cost: Free

Website: NPS.gov/FLNI

Address: 6424 Lincoln Highway
Stoystown, PA 15563

 

See map below for other area attractions.


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5 thoughts on “Paying Your Respects at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County”

  1. A very good and fitting review their Jim.

    As you may know I visited this memorial a short time ago, in June in fact. It was very sombre and in many respects fitting. Everyone there knew the significance of the site and the history.

    I kind of like the relatively minimal approach to the memorial and wonder if these expansion plans will maybe detract from the message we should receive from the site. I suppose I’ll have to revisit in a few years to fully grasp the change proposed.

    Interesting to hear of you mention of that mine at the end. I hadn’t heard of that before. I’ll try to add it to my list the next time I’m in the area.

    Thanks again for a great write up Jim.

  2. I had relatives in Shanksville and spent much time there as a child. Some 57 years ago my Father, His Cousin and I hunted small game in that very field and nearby woods. Our wedding anniversary is 9/7 and we often vacationed in Somerset that week so were able to go to the Site often. We were at the anniversary where we helped Gene Stelp dedicate the special large American Flag he designed and commissioned in honor of those innocents that died there. We have pictures of the box-wire structure that had mementos posted on it by many visitors on the first anniversary and for some years until the first crude museum was created. Other visits made other memories for us.
    I recommend visiting the Flight 93 site and the Chapel on the opposite side of Shanksville (I believe the Chapel is still open.)

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