Today, the unseasonably cold, wet weather chased away the normal July heat as I left my car and started down the long, bent pathway. The trip was one I had been longing to make for years and it's origins recently recalled when I realized I would be passing by this destination.
Since the tragic events of September 11, 2001 I have wanted to visit the three places where so many lives were lost and fellow first responders gave their all in an effort to save the perishing: Ground Zero, the Pentegon, and the Flight 93 crash site in Shanksville, PA.
Recently I've been reading Decision Points by President George W. Bush. A friend of mine recommended reading biographies to see how leaders are drawn to make certain decisions. Having been a police officer when 9/11 occurred, this was a book I wanted to read to understand the political dynamics and decisions that lead us down certain pathways.
When I read Bush's account of Flight 93, I realized how an upcoming trip would take me past the Shanksville crash site. I immediately knew I had to stop and make the visit. So I made plans to stop and see the Flight 93 National Memorial.
As I drove into the area and surveyed the horizon I could see the darkening clouds bringing in unexpected weather. But I was determined, I would make this walk and pay my respects to those who had died on that day.
My wife and two of my three children accompanied me as we made our way to the memorial. A small grove of trees surrounded information signs, recounting the specific events that brought Flight 93 plummeting to the ground. We read each and reflected how terrifying these moments must have been. Then, we set off down a long macadam pathway where a dark granite stone wall lined the left side; alcoves cut away at certain points where mementos and other articles were carefully placed in remembrance of those who died.
As the walkway bent you could see the portion of the field that had been identified as the impact site. Unlike the day from 2001 when the wreckage was strewn across the dirt field, field grass with splashes of color from wildflowers now replaced the desolate site.
Understanding that the victims were now buried in the crater originally formed at impact, I paused and reflected how 40 people, who were going about their daily lives, would be forever united through in event.
I continued walking and reached the beautiful walls of white, vertical stones, each seated one along side of the other, a name etched on each.
As I read each of the victim's names, I thought about the lives lost and the families left behind.
Then I recalled a question my 11-year-old asked in the car as we were initially approaching the the park. Her question came in response to discussions my wife and I were having about how the events of 9/11 effected our lives on that day and since.
She simply asked, "Daddy, what's 9/11?"
Though I knew the day would come, my heart sank. We've reached the day when a generation would exist who didn't know the events or have some personal connection to 9/11.
In the best way you could possibly explain to an 11-year-old the events that unfolded that day I realized that I will also need to be diligent in sharing with her how America was before 9/11, how America was after 9/11, and, most importantly, the valor of the heroes who died that day.
May God help us to never forget the hurt, pain, and loss left by 9/11!
Ken Lang is a former Baltimore area homicide detective and an award-winning author of several true crime books, including Walking Among the Dead, Standing In Death’s Shadow, andDeath Comes Uninvited. In 2011, he was named one of 50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading by The Author’s Show. He was recently awarded the 2013 DETC Famous Alumni of the Year. 2013 New York Times bestselling author Julia Spencer Fleming says, “Ken Lang is the real deal—a cop with chops!” Ken resides in North East, Maryland with his wife and three children. To learn more about his true crime books and upcoming crime novels please visit his website atwww.kenlangstudios.com.