First-responders collect relics from 3 crash sites to memorialize at training center
By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times
When United’s Flight 93 hurtled to its doom on Sept. 11, it ripped into the remote landscape in southwestern Pennsylvania, scattering dirt, splintering rock, and leaving a hole in the nation’s heart.
Since that tragic day, the Stony Creek Township site has become a treasured memorial. On Saturday, it moved closer to Chester County as a group of area first-responders visited, returning with a piece of rock displaced by the crash.
The pilgrimage to the site – where dozens of heroic passengers detoured what had become a missile aimed at the nation’s capital – completed a 9/11 trifecta for the county group. A little more than a week ago, another contingent, several of whom also participated Saturday, traveled to the Pentagon to obtain several chunks of limestone debris from that crash site.
With input from first-responders, the rocks will be fashioned into separate memorials at the county’s new Public Safety Training Center, a work in progress in South Coatesville. In September, the complex debuted with an education center, anchored by the dramatic display of a steel beam from the World Trade Center, a relic forged in Coatesville.
Currently under construction is a four-acre tactical village that will house the limestone Pentagon artifacts. The third and final phase of the center will be an indoor shooting range, where the Flight 93 shale will be memorialized, said Beau Crowding, the county’s deputy director for fire services.
West Bradford Fire Chief Jack Law, a participant in all three odysseys, said Saturday’s trip was particularly special because it represented the final leg of an effort “to bring a piece of history back to Chester County” from each 9/11 site. Accomplishing that will “memorialize that day for the younger generation,” he said.
West Pikeland Township Police Chief Shane Clark, also part of all three missions, said the county group had a choice between receiving the rock or some soil from the site. He said they opted for the stone because it offered “more options for display.”
The experience proved to be educational, awe-inspiring and gratifying, according to the participants, all of whom were first-time visitors to the Flight 93 National Memorial. Their tour guide: the son of a fire chief who responded to the scene.
One common misconception is that the crash occurred in Shanksville, said Jim Werner, a member of the Uwchlan Ambulance Corps. “It’s Stony Creek Township; they made that very clear,” he said, explaining that Shanksville, several miles away, is the mailing address.
Penny Knotts of the Keystone Valley Fire Department said the area was so remote that first-responders had trouble finding it, eventually using an old mining road for access. The fact that no one survived the crash added a somber element. “It was very moving to be there,” she said.
Ron Miller, president of the Chester County Fire Police Association, saw a familiar name on the memorial: the father of a boy Miller had taught when he worked in Bucks County. “It brings it all home,” he said.
Crowding said he was struck by the throngs of people touring the site, many of whom stopped to thank the first-responders for what they do. “I didn’t expect that at all,” he said, adding that the visitors were thrilled to learn about the county group’s reason for being there. “It was pretty neat.”
Miller said one woman said she visited the site because of its link to American heroism in the face of terrorism, and she also expressed thanks to the Chester County first-responders. Miller countered that they owed her a debt of gratitude: Her husband had been killed while on duty in Afghanistan.
Crowding said the group was also indebted to Steven Saymon from Phila. 9/11 Memorial Inc., who had set up both of the rock-seeking expeditions. In addition to facilitating memorials for the Chester Countians, he did the same for a group from New Jersey, and he brought a piece of steel from the World Trade Center for a rendezvous with a Homeland Security representative from Michigan.
“He’s really passionate about making sure that these items go to people who will appreciate them,” said Miller. “It’s really a great thing.”
Ed Toner, past president of the Chester County Fraternal Order of Police, agreed. He shook his head as he surveyed the shale: “That’s what was left after the plane hit the ground at 560 miles per hour.”
The Chester County convoy to the Flight 93 Memorial included Clark, representing the Chester County Police Chief’s Association; Miller, president of the Chester County Fire Police Association; Law, representing the Chester County Fire Chief’s Association; Werner and Knotts, who both represented the Chester County EMS Council; Crowding, representing the county’s Department of Emergency Services; Deputy Sheriff William Carter, Deputy Sheriff Mark Smith and Jake, his K-9 partner, representing the Sheriff’s Office; Toner, representing the Chester County Fraternal Order of Police; and John DiBuonaventuro and his partner, K-9 Leo, representing the Chester County Hero Fund.