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Task force seeks 'common ground'

| Sunday, May 11, 2003

The task force planning a memorial to Flight 93 in Somerset County took some small but important steps Saturday, but then found itself, at the end of the day, with more questions than answers concerning what exactly it wants to have happen at the site where 40 passengers and crew lost their lives to terrorist hijackers.

"I think we made excellent progress," said co-chair Larry Catuzzi before cautioning that ahead lay a series of difficult decisions and monumental tasks. These include settling on a memorial design and deciding whether or not the countryside near Shanksville should also include a visitors interpretation center, which would enlarge the project.

Task force member Randy Cooley, of the Department of the Interior, told the gathering of family members of Flight 93 and others that many of the decisions that have to be made will hinge on the story this group and a yet-to-be-named federal advisory commission to the secretary of the interior decide to tell -- the extent to which it will focus on the passengers and crew, the sequence of events leading to the hijackings on Sept. 11, 2001, and the aftermath of the assault on U.S. soil by members of terrorist organization led by Osama bin Laden.

The task force must also address such thorny issues as the amount of land that should be acquired or set aside, the proper balance between honoring and remembering the dead and preserving, as far as possible, the land in the vicinity of the crash site for everyday use, and what "sacred" means in the context of the memorial -- how might private grieving for family members and access to the location by the public be reconciled or even harmonized.

"We are seeking to define common ground," Cooley said, echoing what others said throughout the daylong conference, the second of three meetings planned by the task force. The next meeting at the Shanksville-Stonycreek High School cafeteria is scheduled for June 21.

Far from fretting over what remains to be decided, task force members appeared prepared to let the process play itself out. Indeed, a great deal of emphasis was placed on following the edict that wide consultation will lead inevitably to a broad, solid consensus.

"Inclusiveness" seemed to be on every lip.

"Remember this is 'we', not 'me'", said co-chair Kim Gibson, a Somerset County judge.

This was a point driven home on a trip last week to Oklahoma City, where some task force members had the opportunity to tour the Murrah Federal Building memorial and talk to family members who lost relatives in the domestic terrorist assault that took place April 19, 1995 and claimed 160 lives.

Ken Nacke, a Baltimore policeman who lost his brother, Louis Nacke III, on Flight 93, said "we are one big family now. We need to trust one another. They" -- the passengers aboard the doomed Boeing 757 -- "acted as one."

He later told reporters that the visit to Oklahoma City, arranged by the National Park Service, "opened my eyes to how inclusive (the planning process) has to be."

The family members in Oklahoma City took control of the process from the very beginning, several people said, and in many ways "turned the rules upside down," as one task force member said. For one thing, the Oklahoma City group opened the design competition to all comers, within certain parameters. In the normally tightly-drawn world of professional memorialists, this is something that is just not done, those in attendance on Saturday said.

Catuzzi, who makes his home in Texas and is a director of the Houston Astros baseball team, lost his daughter, Lauren Grandcolas, on Flight 93. He choked up near the close of the meeting when speaking of the approach of Mother's Day, today.

The task force members gathered in Shanksville, numbering 60 or so, heard from members in Boston and Staten island, N.Y., via video conferencing. Jennifer Price, of Families of Flight 93, said from Boston it was "important to reach out to the families."

"I am overwhelmed, speechless," Price, who lost her mother in the crash, said. "I am just so proud of all of you."

Flight 93 was believed headed to Washington, D.C., where the hijackers may have planned to crash into the White House or U.S. Capitol. Hijacker flew commercial aircraft that day into the Pentagon, outside Washington, and the World Trade Center Towers in New York City, killing more than 3,500 people and prompting a war on terrorism by the United States.

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