Event set to raise funds for Flight 93 memorial

Clinton, Bush, Boehner pledge to raise about $10M

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Two former U.S. presidents and the current speaker of the House will be hosts for a fundraiser with the substantial goal of raising all of the private money needed to finish the Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County.

That's roughly $10 million that former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, along with Speaker John Boehner, said they intend to raise May 15 in Washington, D.C., from about 350 select donors, according to the National Park Foundation.

"They have set the bar high," Gordon Felt, past president of the Families of Flight 93, said of the co-hosts. "They aren't going to be there for a $50,000 event. They are totally committed." Mr. Felt's brother, Edward, died when Flight 93 crashed on Sept. 11, 2001.

Monday's announcement fulfills an impromptu pledge first made by Mr. Clinton during a speech at the Sept. 10, 2011 dedication of the first phase of the memorial.

"Certainly President Clinton took us all pleasantly by surprise last Sept. 11 [weekend] when he got the ball rolling," said King Laughlin, vice president of the park foundation that oversees the fundraising. "And now working with President Bush and Speaker Boehner, it really shows the American people how important this is to the country."

Mr. Clinton said Sept. 10 that he was appalled to learn during conversations with park officials before his speech that not all of the money to complete the memorial had been raised -- making it the only one of the three Sept. 11 memorials not either finished or funded.

He said during his speech that he brought that issue up with Mr. Bush and Mr. Boehner, who were also at the dedication, and they all agreed to be fundraiser hosts.

It took some time to locate the right place to hold the event, contact all of the potential donors and find a night when all three of the men could be there.

"It has taken awhile" to get the event together, said Jeff Reinbold, superintendent of the Flight 93 National Memorial for the National Park Service. "But these are three incredibly busy people."

The fundraiser will be held in the Newseum, an interactive museum of news and journalism.

Mr. Laughlin said the site was chosen because it is located roughly halfway between the White House and the U.S. Capitol building on Pennsylvania Avenue and because the Newseum has a Sept. 11 exhibit on display that will help visitors see the Flight 93 National Memorial in context.

Up to 350 people are expected "literally [from] New York to California," Mr. Laughlin said.

The National Park Foundation has made it clear in its recent news releases and again on Monday that the big part of the fundraising push will be on corporations that, the foundation emphasized, have contributed only 10 percent of the private funds pledged so far.

The memorial, located in Stonycreek Township near Shanksville, opened the first phase -- a walkway and a wall with the names of the 40 victims -- last year after raising $62 million from public and private sources.

But the cost of the remaining work at the site, including completion of the learning center, the visitor center and the Tower of Voices bells, is estimated at $14 million, which the park foundation has just begun raising. It has requested $4 million in federal money for the project. The park service, which runs the site, hopes to open the visitor center on the 13th anniversary of 9/11 in 2014.

"It is our duty to finish building the memorial to those on Flight 93 who gave their lives on Sept. 11," Mr. Clinton told The Associated Press in a statement Monday. "Together we can ensure that the story of the ultimate sacrifice the heroic citizens of Flight 93 made to preserve our freedoms will endure."

Mr. Bush said in a statement to the AP that "the heroes aboard Flight 93 left behind a legacy of bravery and selflessness that will always inspire us. What happened above that Pennsylvania field ranks among the most courageous acts in our history."

Mr. Boehner said the park foundation has made great progress toward securing the funds to complete the memorial, but "we haven't crossed the finish line yet."

nation - region

Sean D. Hamill: shamill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2579. The Associated Press contributed.


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