The global War on Terror started over the skies of Western Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001.
Now, a Somerset County group wants to honor the military men and women who continued that fight with a new memorial park a few miles from where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in a Stonycreek Township field. Forty passengers and crew members died there after fighting back against terrorists who hijacked the plane as part of a coordinated effort in which three other planes crashed into targets that day in New York City and Washington, D.C.
“Why not honor the combatants that followed in their footsteps?” said Randy Musser, Patriot Park Memorial organizer and township resident.
Musser and members of Shanksville American Legion Post 911 are working to build the park just west of the entrance to the Flight 93 National Memorial on Route 30. They erected five flagpoles last week honoring each branch of the military. Post Senior Vice Commander Bob Munhall said organizers wanted to have the flags up in time for the memorial Wednesday.
“The flags are the beginning start of it all,” said Jim Chapman, a member of Post 911.
Musser acquired the 15-acre property a few years ago and land preparation work has been ongoing, he said. They hope to create a picnic area and global War on Terror Memorial through private donations and charitable contributions. Musser estimated the project cost at $3 million to $4 million.
“We’ve got a good feel for what we want to do here,” Musser said. “We’ve got a nice chunk of ground that’s really pretty to develop.”
Renderings show groves of trees, parking, picnic tables, an education center and a large memorial plaza with exhibits about branches of the military and their roles in the War on Terror, which was launched in response to the terrorist attacks.
Organizers know once the memorial is built, visitors may leave mementos — just as they did at the makeshift memorial at the crash site.
“We need to put a place up for them to do that,” Chapman said.
More than 60,000 items left at the temporary memorial were collected, archived and catalogued by a group of local volunteers from the Shanksville area, according to Brooke Neel, Friends of Flight 93 spokeswoman. Those items are kept in a special unit at Iron Mountain, a secure storage facility deep in an abandoned limestone mine an hour north of Pittsburgh.
“People would come by and leave hats, flags, poems written by children, flags and even a few Purple Hearts,” Neel said. “There are more items there than anyone realizes.”
Munhall said he hopes the proposed memorial will recapture that patriotic spirit. Organizers are looking for more people to participate in the planning and donations.