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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Battle Won*

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, February 25, 2009
as "Rest Assured, the Memory of Heroes Will Never Fade"

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

At long last, the final hurdle remaining for the construction of the permanent memorial to the crew and passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 has been cleared. Agreements have been reached regarding the purchase of the final parcels of land, including the impact site itself, and on Friday, February 20, a public commitment was made to break ground and have the facility completed by the 10th anniversary of the attacks.

Although the announcement was attended by such luminaries as Governor Rendell, and the two United States Senators, the credit for this lies solely and completely with the tireless and dedicated volunteers of the Flight 93 Advisory Commission, the Flight 93 Memorial Task Force, the Families of Flight 93, Joanne Hanley of the National Park Service, and the tough weather-hardened members of the Flight 93 Ambassadors, who have performed magnificently as the faces and voices for the fallen to the hundreds of thousands of visitors to the site.

I have to admit that for awhile, I was worried. The dispute over the land purchase seemed to be hopelessly mired in mutual intransigence. The gap over a fair price per acre remained wide, as neither side budged an inch. Politicians in Washington would toss in a rhetorical bone from time to time, but in their actions seemed to be keeping the issue at an arms length.

Mostly though, I was concerned about the passage of time and the tendency of some Americans toward selective amnesia. Would this thing drag on until public apathy buried the whole idea of a memorial?

As it turned out, my fears were largely groundless. The settlement of the land sale demonstrates that in that case, even seemingly hopeless intransigence can be eventually bridged. Once that gap was bridged, the politicians stepped up and publically stated their commitment. But where I was really wrong was in my assessment of the American memory.

At the quarterly meeting of the Task Force in Somerset last month, a presentation was given by Ranger Adam Shaffer. Probably no one, outside those who were there, are aware that December, as cold as it was, was the second best December for the temporary memorial: 2,595 visitors. In addition, we all remember the arctic weather that descended on the Laurel Highlands during January. The National Weather Service says we received around 30 inches of snow and two ice storms. There wasn’t a day of relief from the icy knife of those incessant winds. Most of us had to deal with those conditions just walking between the house, the car, and the workplace, and the curious visit to pick over the corpse of Circuit City.

But out at the Field of Honor, the Ambassadors were there every day, gutting out the effects of the elements. And in spite of the awful weather, 1,423 visitors still came to the memorial.

On what was indisputably the worst day of this winter, the day of the Big Ice Storm, with every piece of the memorial’s spartan architecture encased and frozen, visitors still showed up.

I’ve been a husband for some thirty years, so I’m familiar with the state of “being wrong.” Usually, it’s not a pleasant state. But in this case, I’m pleased to be there. I will cheerfully admit that I vastly underestimated the depth of the American heart.

As the sky darkened and the sun set on September 11th, 2001, Americans across the country looked to that horizon and made a silent promise; the promise that We Will Never Forget. With the double victory of the land deals and the public commitment made this past week, we can be assured that the memory of the singular courage of our 40 heroes will never fade. Years hence, “…Reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not shall come to this field to ponder and to dream.

“And the power of that vision will pass into their souls.”
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