Stars, Stripes, and Crosses: Remembering Flight 93 in Rural Pennsylvania

At a makeshift memorial near the crash site, Americans have paid tribute with a unique collection of religious and patriotic memorabilia 

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Tomorrow morning, visitors from across the United States will gather beside a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, to dedicate a permanent memorial to the passengers and crew United Flight 93. Of the four passengers planes hijacked on September 11, 2001, Flight 93 still looms largest in the public imagination. The Boeing 757 was on its way from Newark to San Francisco when four al-Qaeda terrorists seized control and veered toward Washington, D.C. 

They may have intended to destroy the U.S. Capitol Building, or perhaps the White House. No one knows for sure, because a group of passengers decided to revolt. "They want to get in here," declared hijacker Ziad Jarrah from the cockpit just before 10 a.m. "Hold, hold from the inside." Moments later, another hijacker's voice screamed, "Pull it down!" -- and then there was silence.

Ever since that day, the passengers of Flight 93 have been regarded as national heroes. Their story has captivated Americans of all political persuasions, but for those on the right, it has taken on particular symbolic value. At least one of the passengers, 32-year-old Todd Beamer, was a religious Christian. On a phone call minutes before his death, he recited the Lord's Prayer and then issued his now-legendary call to action: "Let's roll!" This simple rallying cry, and the passengers who answered it, came to stand for a combination of religious faith and decisive action that many viewed as quintessentially American. 

These sentiments are reflected in the objects and notes left at the site over the past 10 years. Funding for the permanent memorial has been a long time coming, but in the meantime, visitors have contributed to a temporary memorial -- a place of crosses and American flags, of tributes to heroes and red roses labeled with the word "Freedom." As this temporary tribute gives way to a lasting one, here is one final look at the visitors and artifacts gathered beside that Pennsylvania field today. 

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Julie Dermansky is a multimedia reporter and artist based in New Orleans. She is an affiliate scholar at Rutgers University's Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights. Visit her website at www.jsdart.com.

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