Memorials at Saint Vincent
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Saint Vincent College is sponsoring two special events to honor the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and specifically the crash of United Flight 93 near Shanksville, Somerset County.
On Sept. 29, New York Times reporter Jere Longman will discuss his 2002 book, "Among the Heroes: Flight 93 and the Passengers and Crew Who Fought Back," considered by many to be one of the definitive books on the flight.
Then on Oct. 6, a daylong forum will be held with nine speakers to help parents and educators respond to the needs of young children when dealing with a tragedy of this magnitude.
Both events are in the Fred Rogers Center for Early Childhood and Children's Media on the college campus in Unity, near Latrobe.
Mr. Longman of Philadelphia covered the 2001 crash for The New York Times and spent several days in Shanksville. Afterwards, he returned to sports writing but was convinced to write a book about the valiant resistance of the passengers whose actions probably saved thousands of lives.
"This was really the first victory we had in the war on terrorism," he said. "A publisher wanted me to focus on who these 40 passengers and crew were, and I also wanted to find out as much as I could about what happened on that flight."
He started on the book that October, interviewed 300 family members and friends and spent six months writing.
"The big surprise was that people talked to me," he said. "I wasn't sure they would. But the families of everybody but one woman talked to me."
Passengers on the flight spoke to relatives by cell phone and learned of the earlier hijacked plane crashes at the World Trade Center in New York City.
"I think 14 calls were made," he said. "I heard two of the calls."
He noted the most well-known passengers were athletic by nature. There was Todd Beamer, who was heard by a phone operator to say, "Let's roll," which became a battle cry for Americans fighting back against Islamic terrorism. And Thomas Burnett was another, who told the operator that one of the four hijackers had a bomb strapped to him and the passengers were going to jump him.
Mr. Longman said he also focused on some of the lesser known passengers on board.
He said many were at the top of their game and were accomplished in their field -- they were licensed pilots, air traffic controllers, EMTs and former police officers.
Flight 93 took off from Newark International Airport at 8:40 am., headed for San Francisco, but turned around near Cleveland at 9:35 a.m.
The four al-Qaida hijackers stabbed one passenger and forced some of them to move to the back of the plane.
"The resistance took place at 9:57 a.m., and the plane crashed at 10:03 a.m.," Mr. Longman said. "The 9/11 Commission reported that the plane was "driven into the ground on purpose."
He said those who listened to the plane's voice recorder heard a rattling, leading some to believe passengers used a food cart to ram the cockpit door in an effort to disrupt the terrorists' plans.
"To me, the big question is why the plane, which took off from Newark, N.J., got as far as Cleveland before the hijackers turned it around. Were the hijackers having second thoughts? Or was that the plan, to make the final crash a bit later, either into the White House or the Capitol, which is an easier target to hit."
"We'll never know exactly what happened, whether the passengers got into the cockpit," he said.
He noted that the movie made about Flight 93 ended by showing the hands of the passengers in the cockpit, where two of the hijackers were.
United Flight 93 crashed into the ground nose-first traveling 580 mph, he said. It landed upside down, with indentations of the wing and tail visible in the ground.
Mr. Longman said those 40 brave passengers have inspired Americans to act to prevent other hijackings or events.
"This method of hijacking planes won't happen again," he said. "Since then, passengers have tackled people -- the underwear bomber and the shoe bomber, for example. It's clear people are saying 'we're taking action' and nobody's going to sit back and allow it to succeed again."
He added that pilots now have axes in the cockpit and cockpit doors are reinforced.
Part of the 9/11 memorial in Shanksville is being dedicated this weekend.
The Oct. 6 forum for parents and educators continues the work of the Fred Rogers Center for Early Childhood and Children's Media at the college and is designed to help ages 5 to 9 deal with the crash or other tragedies.
It is also sponsored by the Friends of Flight 93 and the National Park Service, which has oversight of the Shanksville memorial site.
The forum will include nine speakers.
Ginny Barnett of Latrobe is coordinating the forum and is a member of the nonprofit Friends of Flight 93.
"We'll look at how children might react and how adults can respond to their needs," she said.
Gordon Felt, president of Families of Flight 93, whose older brother Edward was a passenger, will be a main speaker.
Mrs. Barnett spent four weeks as a Red Cross volunteer responding to the Shanksville crash and the New York City 9/11 crashes. She has been a longtime volunteer at the Shanksville site and wrote the Junior Ranger booklet for children that has been handed out at the crash site, and the group is in the process of writing a new booklet.
"As a child or a parent, we often become emotional and don't have words to explain what we are feeling," she said. "Children attending the memorial, or watching images on TV, take their cues from their parents, if they are sad or crying. That's their world.
"We give the parents or educators the tools to respond, such as how to explain words like 'terrorist' or 'hero.'"
Instead of focusing on the tragedy, for instance, parents might want to emphasize to young children who the helpers were at the crash, such as the police, the firefighters, the EMTs, she said. And they can ask their children to draw a picture of someone who helps them.
Mrs. Barnett remembers her own experience viewing President John F. Kennedy's casket in Washington, D.C., when she was in first or second grade.
"We waited hours in line," she said, and remembered how cold it was outside in November 1963. Her father had a long coat on, and he would try to keep her warm in it.
"My parents were talking to me about why they were so sad, so it helped me understand. It was horrible, everyone was crying, but it made me feel safe as a child talking about the tragedy with them and them telling me it would be OK."
Two of the speakers at the forum, Hedda Sharapan, director of early childhood initiatives at the Fred Rogers Center, and Steve Woods, a retired child grief specialist at the Highmark Caring Place in Pittsburgh, helped Mrs. Barnett when she was writing the Junior Ranger booklet.
Ms. Sharapan worked closely with Fred Rogers since 1966, and he often spoke directly on his children's TV show to his young viewers about dealing with death and tragedies.
Mr. Woods has spent the past 50 years helping children and their families deal with grief and loss.
Other speakers include Mary Margaret Kerr, professor of child psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh. She has responded to more than 1,000 school-related crises, including several high-profile airline crashes.
Admission to Mr. Longman's Threshold Lecture at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 29 is free, but reservations are required. Email a request for tickets with your name and phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets can be picked up the night of the lecture.
Cost to attend the Oct. 6 Forum is $20, which includes continental breakfast and lunch. The forum can accommodate 175 participants. Deadline for registration is Sept. 26. Register online at www.stvincent.edu/events/september-11-symposium, or call 724-805-2177.
First Published September 8, 2011 4:58 am