Steelers event raises Flight 93 memorial funds

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Tammy Taylor had a rare vantage point for watching Sept. 11, 2001, unfold. She was in the pilot's seat of a Delta Airlines plane waiting to take off from the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

"I was No. 2 for takeoff and saw the Pentagon hit," she said. "We didn't know what was going on at the time. And we had to evacuate the airport because they told us a fourth airplane was hijacked. It was Flight 93.

"I remember it was still airborne and we were just praying. Let them get on the ground. Let there be a crew member still alive."

Of course, there wouldn't be. All 40 passengers and crew members aboard that fated flight died when it crashed in a field in Shanksville, Somerset County.

Ms. Taylor was among the more than 1,000 people who turned out Wednesday night at Heinz Field for the "Forty For Forty" dinner honoring those who perished and raising money for the memorial being built at the crash site.

Former Steelers running back Rocky Bleier put together a roster of 40 former Steelers players to represent each of the heroes aboard Flight 93 and invited members of Pittsburgh's corporate community -- as well as average Steelers fans -- to support the event. A similar event last year raised more than $250,000 for the Flight 93 Memorial.

Ms. Taylor, 45, of Mt. Lebanon, paid $393 for one of the 10 seats at a dinner table with former Steelers wide receiver Louis Lipps and his wife, Leah. At other tables, Steelers veterans sat with donors and some relatives of those who perished in the crash.

"This is one of the charities I'd like to donate to," Ms. Taylor said. "My life has changed tremendously since that day. My whole career."

Former Steelers center Dermontti Dawson traveled from his home in Lexington, Ky., for the event.

"This is special," he said. "Anytime you can help bring awareness and raise funds for something of this nature, hey, I am more than willing to support it. I'm happy to be part of this.

"The Steelers are a family organization. And I get invited to a lot of events, some of which I can't make. But I wanted to be here for this."

Jeff Hartings of Avonworth was a center with the Steelers on Sept. 11.

"It was a Tuesday, an off-day for the team," he recalled. "The next day, it was hard for us to go back and practice. We later went up to Shanksville and had a memorial for those families.

"I think it's important to build a memorial, not just for this generation but for future generations. This country will go on for hundreds of years, and if you don't do something like this now, maybe it will never get done, and then that day will be forgotten. And I don't think that day should be forgotten."

Calvin Wilson, whose brother-in-law was co-pilot on the flight, was among the family members in attendance. He expressed his appreciation to the Steelers, the supporters, and everyone in Western Pennsylvania.

"The heart of Pennsylvania has adopted our families and taken us in," he said. "And also they're the custodians of the crash site. It's absolutely amazing."

Mr. Wilson said it is hard for the families to get together, especially considering how they're spread out across the country.

"And some family members are still grieving and find it difficult to be involved in what amounts to a constant reminder," he said.

"But they're with us in spirit. And this is a major site for healing. It's not about hate. It's about the inspiration and what these heroes stood for."

Tom Rooney, president of the Rooney Sports & Entertainment Group, which produced the event, said it isn't hard to understand Western Pennsylvania's connection with Flight 93 and the dedication to building the memorial.

"A lot of the giving has been within the Pittsburgh region. Because we all know that plane went over our heads," he said. "We saw it in our mind's eye."

Keith E. Newlin, deputy superintendent for Western Pennsylvania parks, said two major construction phases of the project are well under way and will be ready for the dedication ceremony scheduled for the 10th anniversary of the crash.

"We've encountered no real issues to date, so we're a little bit ahead of schedule," he said.


Dan Majors: dmajors@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1456.


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