Stephanie Shapiro: Honoring Dead, Seeking Meaning: United Flight 93

Roundup: Talking About History

...On the anniversary of the shattering day now known as 9/11, the public and relatives of those who died on Flight 93 will gather in the Shanksville field where the plane crashed for a commemorative service.

They will also learn more about the design chosen last week for a permanent National Park Service memorial on the 2,200-acre site. The memorial, anchored by a "Tower of Voices" filled with 40 wind chimes, is expected to cost $30 million and be completed in four years.

The new memorial will replace the grassroots shrine that has drawn more than 130,000 pilgrims from around the world in the four years since 9/11. But the Tower of Voices, and the carefully researched, official account of Flight 93 that visitors will hear there, might never replace the story that has evolved at this remote reclaimed strip mine.

Fueled as much by emotion as facts, the story of Flight 93 has become a consummately American myth of faith, liberty and selfless heroism.

`Let's roll!'

The story, adorned with patriotic and religious imagery, is seared in the popular imagination: Through cell phone calls, Flight 93 passengers learned of the other hijackings and voted to storm the cockpit. Todd Beamer cried "Let's roll!" He and others forced the hijackers to take the plane down before it could crash into a Washington, D.C., target. In this story, the passengers deliberately chose an empty field to avoid killing anyone on the ground.

The Guerins are among those eager for a connection to the Flight 93 narrative, an unfolding saga that shimmers, Lourdes-like, with weeping angels and other miracles.

Tales of one Flight 93 passenger's Bible, found unscathed on a pile of charred debris; the sudden halt of a constant breeze during the last two 9/11 memorial services; the fateful, last-minute decision made by some passengers to board the doomed flight. All are framed in countless retellings to suggest a divine presence at work in Shanksville.

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