It is isolated. In the middle of nowhere really. No matter where you are or where you are going, you're required to go out of your way specifically to get there. It is not a place you would just happen upon by chance.
Arrival is achieved through a maze of winding two-lane roads, upon which one must travel past the typical two-story homes of rural Americana with automobiles parked upon the grass, statues in the yard, and people waving from the swing on the front porch.
Once there, it is strikingly ordinary, a bland and dull parcel of land. It is a field of grass nestled against a grove of trees no more unique than peering out the window during a typical cross-country drive. At the top of the hill is a chaotically arranged scrap metal yard, at the bottom a small reservoir adjacent to a fenced-in area, apparently home to some past industrial affair. Bisecting the two and on opposite sides of the tiny road are small paved patches, with portable toilets on the north and opposite, a one-room temporary building sporting a Parks Service sign. Unlike any similar facility, nearly every conceivable surface has been covered with graffiti, blessed openly by those in charge here. Beside the building, people are milling about silently admiring and adding to the massive collection of trinkets left by those who came before them. The loose gravel on the side of the road serves as a long and linear parking lot reminiscent of a funeral interment service. It is so reminiscent in fact, that getting out of the vehicle is done with solace and silent reverence.
This is indeed America, the real America, rural and untainted by the commercialized and corporate cancer plaguing our nation's cities. It is pure and clean, and it is perhaps by manifest destiny that this rather ordinary place serves now as a remarkable testament to the American will.
This place utterly defines transformation. On a Tuesday morning six years ago, this peaceful meadow was transformed into sacred ground. That day, many innocent souls were transformed into immortality. That particular morning, our nation was transformed from comfortable complacency to shock, anger, and vigilance. My visit here came on a Saturday, three days prior to another Tuesday, which will serve as both an anniversary of tragedy and a birthday of an ideal both brought forth to this sacred field of souls six years ago.
To the north of Shanksville, but actually located closer to Lambertsville, Pennsylvania, on a road so aptly named "Skyline," lies this adolescent shrine to the American Spirit. On September 11, 2001, 40 lives came to an abrupt end here along with the four self-made enemy combatants who, that day, began an undeclared war upon the American Way. Much like Omaha Beach and Mount Suribachi, it simultaneously emulates tragedy and victory. The undeclared enemy that day focused their cross-hairs on four targets. Three shots hit those targets with deadly accuracy while one lone arrow seemingly aimed straight for our heart was instead shanked wayward by an indomitable force the aggressors never expected. That force was Americanism, and this field is the recipient of the single piercing wound to the side.
It seems fitting almost that America received this misdirected gash in a location so unfamiliar to all but a few of her citizens. The other locations that day, as well as the still-undetermined fourth were all well very well known by comparison. The tall towers in New York most certainly stood for our economic triumph. The pentagonal fortress was selected for it's symbolism of our military superiority and prowess. The remaining shot was most certainly aimed at something every American considers sacred, the US Capitol or less likely, the White House in Washington D.C.. However, it missed it's mark, and though unintended as a target, this rural Pennsylvania field served as a blow upon the average heartland American as well as a strike back from the same, loudly proclaiming "Not in My House!"
The story of United 93 and her heroes is well-known. The aftermath is to this day still being determined. As I write these words, I sit on a Southwest Airlines airplane directed toward my Texas home, flanked on one side by a polite and sharply dressed businessman and on the other by a young man fast asleep in his US Army issued fatigues, his name proudly emblazoned above the pocket upon his right breast. In a moment of sudden realization, I see that each of them represent one of the targets hit that mid-September morning. I then see that I represent that last wound, the rest of America.
The field in Southwestern Pennsylvania is most certainly the least dramatic of the three sites, but it clearly speaks of the most heroic and must be met with nothing less than reverential awe. Here, we fought back. Here we sacrificed to protect another target and for that matter the entire nation. And, it was here I came to pay my respects and relinquish my everlasting gratitude for those whose courageous end provided the ashes from which we as a nation could and would rise.