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On Sacred Ground

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shansville-view-of-field.JPGIt 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. shanksville-flags.JPGUnlike 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.shanksville-fdny.JPG 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. shanksville-row-of-flags.JPGMuch 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.shanksville-cross.JPG
14 Comments
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"This is indeed America, the real America, rural and untainted by the commercialized and corporate cancer plaguing our nationÃ
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Adam i can definitely see how you could has misunderstood this. However, what I understood from it was that he was talking about the land. The beauty of our land how it looked when this great nation was born.
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I heard a question recently "Why did the terrorist kill 3000 people that day"? The answer was because they couldn't kill 30,000. It is very sobering indeed to realize how true that is they just wanted to kill as many americans as they could. Simply because we hold different beliefs.
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This is a very good article. You might want to share with friends and family.
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Adam, thank you for your comment. I'll attempt to clarify here. Ã
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Thanks for posting this, it was a great article to read. I enjoyed looking at the pictures and seeing that there seemed to be quite a few people around there. I had the chance to visit all the 9/11 sites 2 years ago and of the 3, this one was the most moving. The loss of life was nowhere near that of Ground Zero, but the vast emptiness and silence that is there accentuates just how different that morning was for this area. On our visit, there was snow on the ground and around 30mph winds, so that just added to the eerieness and solemnity of the site for us.
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Charles: Thanks for the explanation. That's kind of what I thought you meant. With that explanation, I think I have to agree with you.
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Alan, thank you for your comment! Having been there myself I can only imagine the scene through your eyes on that day and in those circumstances. It must have been inspiring. My visit left an indelible impression upon my spirit and in writing this I hoped the record of my emotions would aid in conveyance of the same to others.
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This is a beautiful tribute to all the individuals who lost their lives that day at any of the tragic sites and to their families and friends who must bear the loss of loved ones. On that horrific day 6 years ago we as a nation suffered greatly but this article helps bring strength to all in depicting the true spirit of Americans every where, both urban and rural communities. The Americans on Flight 93 showed the world the strength and love we have for our country and for the lives of all people. I am deeply offended by Adam Snider's comment. No one on Flight 93, The World Trade Center site or Pentagon site asked where you were from.....they just all banded together and helped one another. I'm originally from back East, Philadelphia and lived in the New York area for a number of years.....so as an urban dweller I can tell you Mr. Snider is way off base. Mr. Snider, instead of criticizing this tribute, why not write a tribute to all the heros of that day. And if you wish highlight the urban communities, but that to me would not be very accurate because the American Heros that day were just that Americans..... not belonging to a certain group. This tribute was for all Americans and Mr. Snider needs to broaden his horizons.
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Thanks for writing this piece. I didn't realize the location was so remote and I will add it to my list of places to visite some day.
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Dear Mr. West, The former teacher in me wants to just place a big fat A+ on this article and place it on the "Super Star Writing" wall in my old classroom. And while I certainly would have done that for this amazing and emotional piece on your trip today, I would also have to unfortunately spend a ridiculous amount of time correcting the myriad of spelling, grammar, sentence structure and thought presentation errors in the writing by "wood". At first I was furious - at you, the moderators of this blog, for taking such an emotional piece like Mr. West's and allowing a comment so arrogant and ridiculous such as wood's to be on the same page. But then I remembered - a bunch of cowardly terrorists were unable to break our American spirit. Hell, they couldn't even achieve their own dastardly objectives due to the "force of Americanism." And while many of their terrorist buddies continue to live in countries where they have no freedom to express themselves constructively - we in the United States have that right. We have died to protect that right. We have even died to provide that right to others. Mr. West - your article has struck a nerve in me - it found the words to express how I felt about 9/11. And Southwest Airlines - your actions today, in allowing wood's post, cemented the fact that we live in an amazing country - the best country, really. I pray that God continues to protect our soldiers, our country, and the amazing people that make up, as you call it, "the rest of America." As Southwest marketing so eloquently states: "DING! You are now FREE...."
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Thank you for the post, Charles! It is very interesting.
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Mr. West, Thank you for the time you spent writing about Shanksville. The beginning of our summer vacation began with a stop (and yes, it was out of the way) at the United 93 Memorial. While it is a temporary memorial - it is beautiful. It radiates the spirit of those who have come to pay their respects. As a family, we came to the resting place of United 93 only to pause a moment and say a simple prayer. Yet, we ended up gathering with complete strangers to listen to the park ranger tell of the story of the morning of September 11. During the talk, I watched my son, I watched his reaction when the ranger explained how the airplane was flying upside down before it crashed. I watched him, as he listened to the story of how the earth simply swallowed the plane. He understood the impact was felt for miles - lifting a house from its foundation and throwing a farmer to the ground as he worked in his field. I wasn't sure if having him listen would be appropriate. I wanted to protect him from the reality - that moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, sisters and brothers were lost that day. I let him listen. Yet, when the story was over and the picture book shared. Ben could only focus on how the people on the plane could be so selfless - how they would be willing to sacrifice everything to save people they do not know. I tried my best to let him know ordinary men and women put their lives above others everyday, but he came back and said "but mom, they didn't choose it." Of all the items left that day, Ben's impressed me the most...it was a "thank you" note, with a small drawing of an angel. It wasn't until I watched him kneel down and place it at the fence that I cried. It is a place - out of the way - but a place we should all try to visit. Those people that gave their lives went out of their way for us...the least we can do for them is pay our respects and say thank you. Thank you for a beautiful post. Sincerely, Jenny Frasco
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Charles, Wow. What an incredible blog contribution! I am deeply moved by the passions, emotions and patriotism that are evident in your story, plus, just like Hovig above, I am quite impressed with your writing. Although I've not been to that location, I have been to Ground Zero in New York City on two separate trips, and was touched, as you were in Pennsylvania, by the outpouring of sentiment in the form of notes, memorabilia and small gifts attached to the fence around the site. Thank you so much for sharing your trip with us through the blog. Kim External Blog Boy and a Proud American 🙂