Federal Flight 93 advisory commission's last meeting 'bittersweet'

Paul Peirce
| Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, 4:48 p.m.

Ten years after Congress assigned it the enormous task of developing a national memorial honoring the 40 passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93 in a barren field in Somerset County, the memorial's advisory commission formally closed shop on Tuesday.

“It's our 40th meeting of the commission. It's our last, and it's bittersweet,” said Chairman John Reynolds of Charlottesville, Va.

“We want to smile from the depths of our souls because of the work we were able to accomplish, but we also want to cry deeply ... because of the relationships we've formed, and we won't be seeing each other four times a year anymore,” he said.

Reynolds and 14 fellow commission members reminisced about what they accomplished during the past decade: building and designing a $60 million memorial honoring the victims of Flight 93, who thwarted a terror attack on Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, by fighting back against hijackers and crashing the jetliner in a field outside Shanksville.

The commission oversaw fundraising efforts, the acquisition of 2,200 acres of land around the crash site, dedication of the memorial on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and the start of construction of a visitors center on Tuesday.

“But our work is done,” Reynolds said.

Member Kenneth Nacke, whose brother, Louis “Joey” Nacke, died aboard Flight 93, told the commission they've built a permanent memorial “that will tell the story for generations to come.”

He credited “grassroots” fundraising and planning by communities, individuals and corporations with making it possible.

“We're done. Joey would have been a friend to each and every one of you after seeing how you accomplished this. ... I know I'm a better person for it,” Nacke said, wiping a tear from his cheek.

Congress chartered the advisory commission, which President George W. Bush signed into law in 2002. Members were appointed by the Secretary of the Interior.

Members learned on Tuesday that the fruit of their labor is still drawing thousands of visitors to the rural area.

Barbara Black of the National Park Service said the park this summer recorded its 2 millionth visitor since Sept. 11, 2001.

The park has had 190,000 visitors so far this year, and officials anticipate that number to reach 300,000, she said.

“Many national parks would like to see their numbers double in less than 10 years,” she said. “We hope the increase never stops.”

Members heard a report on the USS Somerset, which will be commissioned by the Navy on March 1 in Philadelphia. Named in honor of the passengers and crew of United Flight 93, the 684-foot-long vessel was christened on July 28.

The $1.2 billion ship, to be based in San Diego, will have a crew of 350 and can carry as many as 800 Marines on assault operations. Several of its crew members attended the advisory commission meeting on Tuesday.

Reynolds noted that the National Park Service and Friends of Flight 93 organization, which will take over many of the commission's fundraising and planning efforts, have a huge task before them.

“They won't have the many groundbreakings and building roads. Theirs is the really hard part left to come,” he said. “Their job is to take the memorial and present it to the nation forever.”

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or ppeirce@tribweb.com.

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