Families Ask Bush to Seize Land Parcel for 9/11 Memorial

The Flight 93 temporary memorial near Shanksville, Pa., on Sept. 11, seven years after terrorist attacks at the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.
The Flight 93 temporary memorial near Shanksville, Pa., on Sept. 11, seven years after terrorist attacks at the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. (Jason Cohn - Reuters)
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By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 28, 2008

It has been more than seven years since 20-year-old Deora Bodley and 39 other passengers and crew died in the fiery crash of United Airlines Flight 93, their hijacked plane disintegrating in a grove of hemlock trees outside Shanksville, Pa.

Most of the remains from the tragedy on Sept. 11, 2001, were never recovered, making the bowl-shaped crash site in the western Pennsylvania countryside an unofficial cemetery and, for surviving relatives, sacred ground.

But efforts to buy property for a national Flight 93 memorial have bogged down in federal red tape and a protracted land dispute, angering family members and risking plans to hold a dedication ceremony on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. The delays have prompted an advocacy group, Families of Flight 93, to ask President Bush to personally intervene during his final weeks in office to allow the federal government to seize the land needed for the memorial and to allocate part of the money for the project.

"He signed the memorial act. He wanted something to be there and to be in place for years and years to come," said Bodley's mother, Deborah Borza, of San Diego. "We have waited so long already. I hold on to being hopeful that between now and January 20, something will happen, something will break free."

Landowner Mike Svonavec of Svonavec Inc. of Somerset, Pa., said the National Park Service and Flight 93 groups are "trying to make my company and myself look like the bad guy in this."

The request to seize the land poses a dilemma for Bush, whose presidency has been entwined with the Sept. 11 attacks and with efforts to honor the nearly 3,000 victims killed that day. Bush has called Flight 93 "the first victory" in the war on terrorism, referring to the passenger rebellion that led the al-Qaeda hijackers to crash into empty countryside rather than their intended target of the White House or the U.S. Capitol.

"Somehow the brave men and women on Flight 93, knowing they would die, found the courage to use their final moments to save the lives of others," Bush said in 2003. "Few are called to show the kind of valor seen on Flight 93 or on the field of battle."

Flight 93, a lightly occupied Boeing 757 that made a late start out of Newark on its way to San Francisco, was taken over by four al-Qaeda hijackers, including pilot Ziad Samir Jarrah, at about 9:28 a.m. on Sept. 11, according to investigators. Two other jetliners had already crashed into the World Trade Center, and a third was about to hit the Pentagon.

Panicked passengers made dozens of cellphone calls and, after learning of the other hijackings and crashes, mounted an effort to thwart the hijackers shortly before 10 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report. The cockpit recorder revealed sounds of a sustained assault on the hijackers and Jarrah's futile attempts to stop them through erratic flight maneuvers. The terrorists quickly gave up any plans of reaching Washington, instead plowing into the field in Somerset County, Pa., at about 10:03 a.m., killing all four hijackers and 40 passengers and crew.

Gordon "Gordie" Felt, who lost his older brother, Edward, in the crash and is now president of Families of Flight 93, said relatives and friends of those who died "consider that sacred ground." Only about 10 percent of the victims' remains were recovered from the area, where airplane remnants and other wreckage are still revealed from time to time.

"When Flight 93 crashed, there wasn't much left, and it created this huge debris field," said Felt, of Remsen, N.Y. "What was left was our loved ones; it's a cemetery for us. We want to make sure it's not just being tramped across, and that it's protected and preserved."

Even without any formal facilities, as many as 140,000 people visit the site each year, according to the National Park Service. A temporary memorial includes ball caps, signs, benches made by schoolchildren and other handmade testimonials. The site was moved farther away from the crash area earlier this year because of a dispute with a landowner.

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