‘An anthem to freedom’

SHANKSVILLE — There were discussions about canceling or at least delaying Sunday’s Tower of Voices dedication ceremony at the Flight 93 National Memorial, park Superintendent Stephen Clark admitted as rain fell on the cold September afternoon.

But that wouldn’t be in line with the spirit of the day.

“Think about the sacrifice of the 40,” he said, referring to the 40 people — passengers and crew members — who were killed when United Flight 93 plummeted into a reclaimed strip mine on Sept. 11, 2001.

Those 40 passengers are credited with rushing the cockpit in an attempt to thwart four hijackers who also were onboard, causing the plane to crash in Shanksville, short of its intended target.

Flight 93 was one of four planes to be hijacked that day.

The others were used as missiles by hijackers, who crashed them into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

The tower, built near the Flight 93 crash site, is meant to honor the 40 passengers who took action on the plane 17 years ago, Clark said.

“This national memorial has always been and will always be an impressive site, and the Tower of Voices that we dedicate here today will impress visitors as the first feature they will see,” Clark said Sunday.

The 93-foot concrete tower stretched skyward below gray clouds, which dumped heavy rain on dozens of spectators, who donned ponchos and held umbrellas.

And Clark pointed out that Altoona-based L.S. Fiore Inc. was awarded a $3.4 million contract to oversee construction of the $6 million tower.

Clark applauded the contractors, who “worked tirelessly” while remaining “always mindful of what a special project they were working on.”

Throughout the event, the weather could not be ignored, including by former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who addressed the dripping audience members.

“It’s really rather remarkable to see all of you there,” he said.

The tower, when completed, will hold 40 metal chimes, each with a different tune. When the wind blows, they will sound playing unique “songs,” representing the voices of the 40 passenger who were killed on Sept. 11, 2001.

Ridge focused on those chimes.

“It’s an anthem and a song like no other,” he said. “An anthem to freedom and to fellowship, a composition with words and music by 40 very special composers, more comforting and inspiring than we ever thought music could be.”

Ridge, who was governor at the time of the Flight 93 crash, spoke about the sounds he heard when he first visited the crash site — helicopters, television crews and sirens from emergency responders. But most of all he remembered the silence of the rural surroundings.

“Years later isn’t it marvelous … that there will now be an everlasting concert by our heroes,” he said.

On Sunday, only eight of the chimes had been installed, as the task proved more difficult than originally believed, Clark said, offering assurances that the remaining chimes will be placed by early fall.

“The National Park Service is committed to providing a chime system that appropriately honors each of the passengers and crew members. There are simply no chime systems of this scale anywhere in the world,” he said. “It is important to finish this project and we will.”

The tower’s completion marks the end of major construction at the memorial, which already features an ornate visitors center and Wall of Names.

Project architect Paul Murdoch also addressed those in attendance at the Sunday ceremony.

“Getting to this point has been intensely challenging,” he said, before reflecting on the work that has been done and will continue. “This is how we grow and nurture a living memorial, by being here today and through our ongoing commitment to remember the 40 passengers and crew members of Flight 93.

“This Tower of Voices commemorates their lives and legacy.”

Closing out the ceremony, the loved ones of those who died on Flight 93 walked to the base of the tower and took hold of ropes, which they pulled sounding the chimes for the first time.

Mirror Staff Writer Sean Sauro is at 946-7535.