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Ten Years Later, Flight 93 Memorial Still Unfinished

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The National Park Service will dedicate a new memorial to the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 next Saturday, in time for the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The airplane crashed outside the town of Shanksville in southwestern Pennsylvania. A decade later, it's the only one of the three major Sept. 11 memorials that has yet to be fully funded.

The field where Flight 93 crashed still looks much like it would have on the morning of Sept. 11 — a rolling meadow of grass and wildflowers, with a picturesque red barn in the distance. The memorial exhibit will be formally dedicated in a ceremony on Sept. 10, but for now visitors can only gaze down at it from a hilltop about 1,000 feet away. Visitors Dale Dremann of South Carolina and Jim Spatafore of Pennsylvania wonder why the memorial isn't further along.

"I think it's a nice start, but I didn't understand why the Senate or the House hasn't allocated some money and got this up and running," Dremann says. "This is something that's very serious to the country; 9/11 was a disaster."

Spatafore says they should have moved much faster than they have, a complaint Donna Glessner, a volunteer with Friends of Flight 93, has heard before.

"This is a landscape memorial, and it does catch some people by surprise," Glessner says. "When we volunteers and rangers explain that the crash site itself is the memorial, [that] it's the final resting place of these people, then they get it. And they understand what we've built here."

At the heart of the memorial is a low marble wall carved with the names of the passengers and crew.

While workmen are putting the finishing touches on the Flight 93 memorial itself, funding for it is very much a work in progress. Congress has allocated about $14 million, but the memorial is still $10 million short of its $62 million price tag. And that's before you add on the cost of a visitor's center and other design features that are planned for the site.

"The main challenge has perhaps more to do with geography than anything else," says King Laughlin with the National Park Foundation, which is helping to raise private donations for the memorial. "Washington and New York are obviously large metropolitan areas. There's a large corporate presence in particular that's very different than what you see in Shanksville. That's a town of around 200 people."

It may not help Laughlin's cause that the families of the 40 passengers and crew who died in Flight 93 are scattered all over the country, or that some of those family members objected to the memorial's original design. They complained that a group of trees to be planted on the site looked too much like an Islamic crescent. The architect modified his plans.

Carole O'Hare, who lost her mother on Flight 93, says she's happy with the final design.

"It's a very serene landscape," O'Hare says. "We wanted something simple that would really enhance the look of the landscape, yet mark the spot by surrounding it, and that's what this design does."

Considering all of the challenges, O'Hare says the Flight 93 memorial is actually coming together pretty quickly. Visitor Katie Logothetis says she thinks it will be a fitting tribute to the passengers who fought back against the hijackers on Flight 93.

"I think that they have a lot of work to do, but I can see where it can go," Logothetis says. "I think it's going to be a great place to reflect on our nation's story as a whole, and the fact that heroes haven't gone into the past. They're real people"

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are expected in Shanksville on Sept. 11. The memorial opens to the public the following day.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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