Saturday, September 11, 2004

From Beijing I flew to Shanghai and got a non-stop flight to San Francisco, where I popped on a non-stop flight to Pittsburgh. From Pittsburgh I took a bus to Somerset, Pennsylvania, where I rented a car and proceeded to Shanksville, a small village of perhaps a thousand people which prior to September 11, 2001 was known for absolutely nothing except perhaps its uniformly mediocre basketball teams. All that changed on 9/11, 2001, when Flight 93 and was hijacked and crashed into the countryside just a couple of miles from Shanksville. I was intent on visiting the site on September 11, the third anniversary of the terrorist attack and the crash here.

The whole way from Shanksville to the crash site I passed a nearly steady stream of big bikes, many in the hog category. Apparently the whole terrorist thing and the threat to the homeland has resonated deeply with the “don’t tread on me” biker crowd, who have turned the area into a veritable pilgrimage site. At the entrance to the site itself was an even greater collection of hogs:

The crash site is located in open fields which had previously been strip mined and then backfilled. Reportedly the National Park Service has plans to build a permanent monument here, but in the meantime there are several temporary monuments created by people who have shown up at the site.

Memorial created by visitors to the site

Five thousand people a week visit the site normally and there were perhaps a thousand present when I showed up at about two in the afternoon on September 11. Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendall and former PA governor and current Director of Home Land Security Tom Ridge were supposed to arrive for a ceremony at four, at which time bigger crowds were expected. As it turned out, only Ed Rendall actually showed up.

Monument to the passengers on Flight 93, who brought the plane down before it could reach its real target.

While I was there a flag was unfurled by a group of visitors, each of whom then said where they were from and why they had come here today. There were people from all over Pennsylvania, plus West Virginia, Minnesota, New York, Georgia, and undoubtedly numerous other states. One woman from Minnesota said she had gone to the World Trade Center Site on the first anniversary of 9/11 in 2002, the Pentagon on the second anniversary in 2003, and now had gone here for the third anniversary.

Unfurling the Flag