WASHINGTON -- A few of the family members were together again, gathered Tuesday inside the U.S. Capitol, the building that may have been struck had their relatives not taken control of United Flight 93 and crashed it into a Pennsylvania field.
“It’s good to be together again, as it always is,” said Gordon Felt, wearing an American flag tie and 9/11 pin with the words “Never Forget.”
Felt’s brother, Edward, was a computer systems engineer on the Sept. 11, 2001 flight from Newark to San Francisco that was hijacked and turned toward Washington, headed toward the Capitol, authorities believe, before the passengers and crew on board fought for control, and flew it into the earth in Shanksville, Pa., killing everyone on board but sparing further harm in the nation’s capital.
More than 11 years later, the family members of the 40 people on board are making a push to complete the Shanksville memorial to their loved ones, seeking to privately raise the last $5 million to complete the project that honors their families and tells their story. Felt and other family members gathered in Washington Tuesday as Kris Toomey, wife of Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, led a press event to raise awareness of the remaining fund-raising need.
“I really don’t think people are aware that they don’t have the funding. I think everyone believes that it should be completed and they are unaware that they didn’t have it completed and that they don’t have the funds to get going on the next, final phase,” Kris Toomey said.
Around $66 million has been spent so far on the memorial, including about $32 million raised from private sources. The last piece of fund-raising is needed to pay for an educational center to re-tell the story of Flight 93 and to build the “Tower of Voices,” a 93-foot tower with 40 wind chimes, one for each of the passengers and crew members who died in the Pennsylvania field.
Speaking to an audience that included a handful of family members of those on board, her husband, Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, his wife, and several other members of Congress, Kris Toomey choked up while remembering that day, when her husband was in the Capitol and she saw that one plane had already struck the Pentagon. She was home in Zionsville, Pa., with the couple’s two children.
“I am thankful that Pat was able to come home,” she said, fighting back tears.
Instead of striking the Capitol, the plane crashed into a field in her home state. More than 450,000 people have visited the memorial since it was dedicated on Sept. 11, 2011, according to the site supervisor. The families are still working to see the project completed.
“Somerset County, Pennsylvania has become an extension of our homes,” Felt said. “How can we not honor those 40 individuals who have been woven into the fabric of our nation’s proud history? The Flight 93 National Memorial will ensure that their efforts, that their actions, that their spirit, will not be forgotten.”
Ground will be broken for a visitors’ center next year, leaving just the education center and Tower of Voices to fund. Families worry that as time passes, the 9/11 attacks will seem more of the past, so they are pressing to complete the final pieces, said Felt, a past president of Families of Flight 93.
Calvin Wilson, whose brother-in-law LeRoy Homer, Jr., was the co-pilot on the flight, said “there’s very few moments in our lives that we get to see a dream come true. To see this completed, it’s been the most committed and dedicated project that I’ve ever endeavored. To see this thing completed would mean absolutely the world to me.”
After he finished speaking to reporters and a few people who wished him well, Felt approached Wilson. The two men shook hands, then hugged.