Radio PA Roundtable – September 9-11, 2016

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, a special edition marking the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America with interviews from the Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County.

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State Trooper Remembers Flight 93 Crash Site

He called family while racing to Shanksville in a code 3 emergency response, not knowing if he would ever speak to them again.  State Police Cpl. Ronald Zona was among the first people on the hallowed ground of the Flight 93 crash site.  “I arrived at the crash site and I expected to see pieces of the jet or other evidence that a commercial jet had just crashed their moments earlier.  However there was barely any sign that a plane had crashed,” Zona recalls.  It took several minutes to soak in.

After cordoning off the debris field, Zona and his fellow troopers spent hours cut off from the outside world.  Their next human contact came in the form of FBI agents, who were covered head-to-toe in hazmat suits.  The state troopers had no way of knowing whether they were safe in their short sleeve uniforms.

This weekend, Zona will remember the 40 passengers and crew of United Flight 93.  “They were the heroes because they knew what was going on in the world, and they decided on that day they were going to take the action that was necessary – whether they died or not – to stop the terrorists from completing their mission.”

Zona, a lifelong law enforcement officer, is assigned to Troop A in Greensburg, Westmoreland County.  He addressed a special 9/11 commemoration at the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) state lodge in Harrisburg this week.  Phase I of the Flight 93 National Memorial is being dedicated this weekend in Somerset County.  As you can see above, the impact zone is now marked with a boulder.

Remembering Fallen Officers from 9/11

An honor guard stood watch over 72 American flags that had been placed in front of the Fraternal Order of Police state lodge.  That’s one flag for every police officer who died in the line of duty on September 11th, 2001.  “9/11 was the deadliest day in law enforcement history, but it was also a day in which innumerable law enforcement officers showed unparalleled courage and bravery,” president of the PA FOP Les Neri said at a Wednesday remembrance ceremony.

State and local police from throughout the state gathered to remember the actions of the heroic police officers who assisted in the rescue efforts in New York, Washington and Somerset County PA.  Neri says all were fully aware of the risk they were taking, but they went anyway.  “This was not the first time they risked their lives, but unfortunately for 72-heroic officers it was their last.”

Neri says the memorial of 72 American flags at the PA FOP headquarters is a small tribute to honor the memory of those officers.  He hopes it can serve as a reminder that Pennsylvania can never forget the actions and sacrifice made by those 72 officers at a time when the nation needed them the most.

Among the officials attending Wednesday’s ceremony was Corporal Ronald Zona with Troop A of the Pennsylvania State Police in Greensburg, Westmoreland County.  Zona was one of the first people on the scene when Flight 93 crashed into a Shanksville field ten years ago.  Check back to hear Zona’s first-hand account later in the week.

Book Documents Flight 93 Temporary Memorial

As many look forward to the dedication of Phase I of the Flight 93 National Memorial, a new book looks back at the temporary memorial that once marked the crash site in Somerset County.  Gripped by the site from the first time he laid eyes on it in 2005, Pittsburgh photographer and author Richard Snodgrass returned 50-times to capture moments in time, in all seasons and conditions.  The best 92-images and accompanying prose can be found in the book, “An Uncommon Field.”

The setting was stark and beautiful, with a 40-foot fence just appearing out of nowhere.  “People would be at the site, and then they just had to leave something,” Snodgrass says.  “It took a while to get to this place, it’s not that accessible.  But they would be the things that they had with them in the car.  They would leave them and write “thank you” on it, to the heroes.”   

The temporary memorial was taken down in 2009, but Snodgrass wasn’t sad to see it go.  “It was really time to move on.  I felt that, very much, it had run its course,” he explains.  Half of the proceeds from “An Uncommon Field” will be donated to the Flight 93 National Memorial Fund.  Snodgrass says the new, permanent memorial has the same spirit that always grabbed visitors at the old one.  “It’s a very special place and I really urge people to go to it.” 

“An Uncommon Field” is published by Carnegie Mellon University Press.  It’s available through a variety of booksellers. 

Two days of dedication and 10th anniversary commemoration ceremonies will be held at the Flight 93 National Memorial on September 10th and 11th

Field of Honor

The Flight 93 National Memorial will include a Field of Honor. (photo credit: Paul Murdoch Architects)

“Fragments from 9/11” on Display

Everyday items recovered from Ground Zero are on display at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology & Anthropology.  “In this case, the small things are not really small because they are mixed up in our own personal reflections of what happened that day,” says Williams Director of the Penn Museum Richard Hodges, who says the goal is to draw attention to the small items that came from the Ground Zero excavations, rather than the monumentality of the towers themselves.

Excavating Ground Zero: Fragments from 9/11

A charred computer keyboard is just one of the items included in "Excavating Ground Zero: Fragments from 9/11."

The exhibit features 15 small, but poignant objects.  “Perhaps the most telling item is a keyboard from a computer that’s partially burnt and just barely recognizable,” Hodges says.  Other objects on display include paperwork, eyeglasses, visitors’ badges and more.  “Minor objects that in themselves tell you nothing, but in the context of this story – as is often the case in archeology – tell you a great deal.” 

In this particular case, those objects harbor an enormously emotional experience.  They’re on display at the Penn Museum through November 6th.  The exhibit also invites visitors to share their own memories of 9/11.  Several special events are also planned at the Penn Museum on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

Once “Excavating Ground Zero: Fragments of 9/11” closes at the Penn Museum, the items will be returned to the National September 11th Memorial Museum collection.

Flight 93 Memorial Fundraising Not Finished Yet

Phase I of the Flight 93 National Memorial will be dedicated during next month’s 10th anniversary commemoration, but another $10-million dollars is still needed to complete the project.  “I think we have to build this memorial here… so that we don’t forget… but also to create a context for teaching visitors about what happened here that day,” says King Laughlin, Vice President of the National Park Foundation for the Flight 93 National Memorial. 

$52-million dollars in public and private funds have already been raised toward the $62-million dollar project.  When Phase I is dedicated, visitors will get to see the black granite walkway that traces the path the plane took before it crashed, and a wall listing the names of the 40-passengers and crew who died on Flight 93.  “Really for the first time in ten years, visitors and the public will have the opportunity to come within a few feet of where the crash took place,” Laughlin says.  Phase II will include a visitors center and 40-groves of trees for the 40-heroes aboard the plane, among other features.  It is expected to open by 2014.

Laughlin says the public can contribute to the memorial online or by texting the world “MEMORIAL” to the number 90999.  By sending that text message, donors will be making an automatic $10-dollar contribution.  The National Park Foundation has launched a public service campaign, and will match all donations, up to $2-million dollars.  Large crowds and numerous dignitaries are expected during the two-day 10th anniversary commemoration in Somerset County.  

Flight 93 National Memorial

Phase I of the Flight 93 National Memorial will be dedicated during the 10th anniversary commemoration next month.

Corbett Remembers 9/11

The 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks is less than a month away.  “That day will stick with me, as it sticks with everybody, as to where you were and what you were doing,” says Governor Tom Corbett.  Ten years ago, Corbett was chairman of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime & Delinquency.  He was in Harrisburg to conduct the commission’s quarterly meeting on September 11th, 2001. 

Details of the tragic events were sketchy when the meeting began.  “We conducted the meeting in an hour, we moved through it very quickly.  But, what I remember is that I kept getting notes produced to me.  I was reading the notes, and I could not tell the members of the commission because they were about the buildings falling,” Corbett recalls. 

Corbett had flown into Harrisburg, but drove a rental car home to Pittsburgh because all commercial planes had been grounded.  It was an emotional Turnpike trip that day: “Knowing that off to my right somewhere was where the heroes had taken over the plane and crashed it into the ground.”    

Flight 93 National Memorial

Phase 1 of the Flight 93 National Memorial will be dedicated during the 10th anniversary commemoration next month.

The Flight 93 National Memorial is under construction, and phase 1 will be dedicated during next month’s 10th anniversary commemoration.  Governor Corbett recently had the chance to fly over the site, and says he looks forward to being there on September 11th

This Monday, Corbett will speak at the 37th annual National Organization for Victim Assistance conference, where special recognition will be given to the 9/11 victims and the advocates who’ve provided assistance.