*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, and National Park Service website (www.nps.gov/flni)
November 12, 2009
as "People Bound By a Cause Can Achieve Great Things"
Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey
It was a beautiful day, in many ways reminiscent of another perfect day, an early September morning in 2001. An impromptu speaker’s platform was set up in front of a line of flags, standing stiffly upright in the brisk wind, a familiar feature of this sacred valley. A singular group of people had gathered on this sunny day. It was a crowd whose members numbered among the famous and the mostly incognito. But every person there, despite their evident diversity, shared a common link.
Saturday, November 7, 2009, was a day when a dream ended, and reality began. Construction of the Flight 93 Memorial has officially begun.
For most of the past 8 years, a highly dedicated coalition of people have worked tirelessly, sweating blood as they surmounted innumerable hurdles. Working together, they survived unending frustration and celebrated each hard-won victory. It is an interesting collection of people. A task force and a commission made up of those with political power and personal influence; who possessed the "juice" to get things done. It also included stalwart members of the National Park Service, a few helpful volunteers, and a corps of dedicated Ambassadors, proudly wearing those sky-blue shirts. And at the heart of it all, a collection of families, all linked by a terrible personal tragedy experienced on the canvas of a larger day of Infamy. Together these remarkable people shared a dream; a dream to build a lasting memorial to 40 ordinary people who, in the face of terror and violence, stood together and fought back. On a dark day, they provided a ray of light; the light of unity, of courage, and of sacrifice.
19 ceremonial shovels, their polished steel catching the bright sunlight, each turned a representative shovel of earth. As Patrick White said, it was not a ground breaking, it was a ground raising; for the ground there has already been broken.
Over the next two years, this now-vacant field will be covered in heavy machinery and scores of workers, the din of construction filling the air and dispelling, for a time anyway, the evocative silence of this place. Barring any unforeseen disasters, on September 11, 2011, the tenth anniversary of that terrible day, this same group of dedicated people, joined by a few more, will gather again to dedicate a new memorial, one that will stand in silent testament for generations.
The story of this memorial is a lot like the story of those who will be honored by it. Groups of people, previously unknown to each other, who were thrown together to accomplish a great task. What is truly remarkable about this story is the incredible level of dedication and commitment they demonstrated.
And their absolute refusal to give up.
Make no mistake, this was a long and rocky journey, paved and papered by difficulties and adversity and miles of letters, forms, permits, and proposals. But all that pain was put aside on Saturday. As Gordon Felt, the President of the Families of Flight 93 rejoiced, “We made it!”
The lesson that we should all take from this is that any group of people united by a meaningful cause and dedicated to a common outcome can achieve great things. This is a valuable piece of wisdom, given the difficulties we all face today. The aims of the terrorists were thwarted because a group of strangers stood united. Their memorial will now become reality because another group of strangers stood united. Unity, the simple act of people working with each other instead of against each other can generate powerful results.
Perhaps it’s a lesson we as a nation should take to heart.