SHANKSVILLE, Somerset County — In the remote, rolling hills near this tiny southwestern Pennsylvania borough, signs of thunderous jolts that shook the town on Sept. 11, 2001, and then rippled across the world, have mostly faded.
The 40-foot deep crater created by United Airlines Flight 93's chaotic, 500-mph descent has long been covered. Nearby, wildflowers blanket the 60-plus acres that serve as a burial ground for 40 crew members and passengers.
It took 10 years, but the National Park Service's Flight 93 National Memorial in Stonycreek Township will be unveiled this weekend during events that are expected to draw 10,000 people, including President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
It's been a long time coming for families of the Flight 93 crew and passengers, who were hailed as heroes for their impromptu uprising against the terrorists who hijacked their flight.
"It's been fascinating just watching it all develop and take form and shape," said Ed Root of Coopersburg, whose cousin, Lorraine Bay of East Windsor, N.,J., was a senior flight attendant onboard. "In some respects this finished memorial is more for the future than it is for the present."
Root first visited the site on a dreary March day, six months after his cousin, a 58-year-old who was known to mother her younger colleagues, had chosen Flight 93 over another because it was nonstop from Newark to San Francisco.
"It was numbing," Root, now 64, recalled. Growing up, Root and Bay spent many a holiday together as well as vacations at the New Jersey shore.
"She was kind of the big sister I never had," said Root, who has no siblings. "I looked up to her as a teenager."
Root was so moved by his first visit that he eventually served on a committee that selected the memorial design, became a years-long member of the Families of Flight 93 organization, and has made frequent trips here to monitor progress of the project's $62 million first phase.
He plans to be here this weekend with hundreds of other relatives of Flight 93 victims.
Saturday's opening ceremony marks the completion of the initial phase of the project — about half of what is planned.
The memorial features a cast concrete gateway leading to a 900-foot walkway that offers vistas of the flower-covered "Sacred Ground" that absorbed the impact of the crash.
At the end of the walkway is a black granite wall listing the names of crew and passengers on the fateful flight. The wall will be unveiled to the public Saturday. Only relatives of those who died aboard the flight will be allowed on the actual ground where the aircraft went down.
A half-mile diameter Field of Honor adjacent to what is being called Sacred Ground will eventually be framed with groves of maple trees and a walking path.
Paul Murdoch, the California architect who designed the memorial, had in mind the courage of the passengers and crew when he designed the memorial.
The 9/11 Commission concluded that the hijackers downed the plane in Pennsylvania as the hostages, who had learned of attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., revolted.
"We used the large scale of the open site to give a heroic quality to the memorial, creating a long, arching walkway around a Field of Honor," Murdoch said. "We used the serenity of the rural landscape to inform the memorial expression as a cemetery, while working with the severity of the site's exposure and mining history to recognize it as a battleground."
Keith Newlin, a National Park Service superintendent whose been at the site since it was established in 2002 as a national park, expects annual attendance of around 110,000 to double or triple once the park is dedicated.
'Fitting' memorial to be unveiled in Shanksville
The first phase of the Flight 93 National Memorial opens to the public a decade after the Sept. 11 attacks.
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