In recent weeks US politics has been roiled by a divisive and angry debate about whether it is proper to build a mosque two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center, destroyed on September 11, 2001.
This story isn’t about that. It is about the opposite of that: a bipartisan effort by two of the most respected public figures in America to honor the lives and memories of some of 9/11’s most extraordinary heroes.
Yes, this year on September 11, Michelle Obama and Laura Bush both will serve as keynote speakers at a ceremony marking the ninth anniversary of the United Flight 93 crash in Pennsylvania during the 9/11 attacks.
Mrs. Bush had previously said she would appear. Mrs. Obama confirmed her participation on Monday.
The event will be held in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, near where the aircraft went down. A new national park and memorial are under construction at the site.
“We are deeply honored to welcome first lady Michelle Obama, Mrs. Laura Bush, and all of our guests to this important event,” said Neil Mulholland, president of the National Park Foundation, in a Monday announcement. “Their show of support honors the lives and memories of these 40 heroes and everyone we lost on September 11, and serves as a valuable reminder of how important this memorial is to preserve and share their story.”
In case you’ve forgotten, Flight 93 was flying from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco when hijackers seized the aircraft. Investigators later concluded that the hijackers had rerouted the plane to Washington when passengers banded together to try and retake control.
They did not succeed. But neither did the hijackers, since the plane crashed far short of DC. Forty passengers and crew died.
Will the joint appearance by admired first ladies do anything to bring the country together? Maybe it will remind us all of the communities of caring we found in grief. At the least perhaps it will be a respite from conflict elsewhere.
The memorial is supposed to be finished in time for the tenth anniversary of 9/11 next year. The actual crash site will remain untouched, according to site plans posted by the National Park Service. Visitors will be able to view the site from a Memorial Plaza, which will feature a wall traveling along the flight path of the aircraft. The height of the wall will be at about the altitude of Flight 93 as it passed overhead – around 40 to 50 feet. The wall also will be inscribed with the names of the 40 who perished.
A planned tower of wind chimes will serve as a murmuring echo of the now-silenced voices of the passengers and crew, according to the National Park Service. You can see the plans here.
"We want to restore life here, to heal the land and nourish our souls,” writes architect Paul Murdoch at the National Park Service website.
This year’s ceremony will be held at the Western Overlook, the site of the command post set up by investigators after the crash. More details will be released in coming days, says the Park Service.