In the weeks following the events of Sept. 11, 2001, a makeshift memorial to the 40 passengers and crew members of United Flight 93 sprang up where the plane went down near Shanksville. Visitors to the site hung notes to the victims and their families on a chain-link fence, placed candles on the ground and left behind a litany of mementos including photographs, stuffed animals, flags and a variety of military and religious items.
In time, the tributes included boots worn by a soldier in Afghanistan, and a brick brought back from a Taliban stronghold.
More than a decade later, visitors still feel moved to leave behind personal items honoring those who died there on 9/11.
But the site has changed dramatically, and continues to evolve under the direction of the National Park Service.
The Flight 93 memorial has always been as powerful and moving a setting as Ive ever visited. That didnt change when concrete and marble were installed near the impact site, creating a national park where Americans first fought back against global terrorism.
Telephone conversations and the flight recorder captured the sounds that morning of passengers calling their loved ones, learning about the hijacking of other planes and the tragic events in New York and outside Washington, D.C. Those terrified passengers somehow produced a plan to charge the cockpit and challenge the hijackers.
Their actions played a role in bringing that plane down in rural Somerset County, far from the terrorists likely intended target of the U.S. Capitol, or the White House.
Now, visitors to the site move across the concrete Memorial Plaza and along a gray stone wall to the Wall of Names 40 white panels that offer permanent reminders of individuals such as Capt. Jason Dahl, flight attendant CeeCee Lyles, German immigrant and grandmother Hilda Marcin, businessman Thomas Burnett, engineer Edward Felt, former rugby standout Mark Bingham, accountant Todd Beamer and others.
Beamer uttered the words now synonymous with Flight 93 and the courageous passengers revolt: Lets roll.
The second phase of the memorial, to be completed by 2014, will feature a visitors center, 40 groves of native trees and an entry portal on the hill overlooking the memorial.
A third phase will follow, and include the Tower of Voices, which will stand 93 feet tall and house 40 wind chimes that will serve as an audible reminder of the selfless acts of courage of the passengers and crew members, according to the memorials web-site.
But the real power is and always will be that spot where United Flight 93 hit the ground nearly 11 years ago.
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama visited last Sept. 11, placing a wreath at the impact site.
On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will join a long list of dignitaries who have stood near the crash site and paid homage to those who died there. Others have included former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, former secretary of state Colin Powell, and Tom Ridge, Pennsylvanias governor on 9/11 and the nations first director of homeland security.
As always, this will be a week for somber tributes and heart-felt remembrances. For tears and deep feelings of patriotism.
Just after 10 a.m. Tuesday, at approximately the time Flight 93 went down in 2001, the names of the 40 heroes will be read aloud.
Each name will be followed by the tolling of the twin Bells of Remembrance.
Its as powerful a moment as youll ever encounter.
Since the Flight 93 National Memorial is a park, admission is free. Flight 93 ambassadors local volunteers will greet you there and tell you the story of the fated flight and its incredible heroes.
You can stand near the impact site, or run your fingers across the names carved into those white walls, and remember your own experiences, thoughts and emotions from 9/11.
Ive been to the Shanksville memorial many times, and that powerful pull of emotions happens with each visit for me whether in the midst of a crowded anniversary gathering or in a quiet moment of solitary reflection.
If you havent been to the Flight 93 site since the permanent memorial opened, or if youve never been there at all, I urge you to make the short drive down Interstate 99 and across Route 30 and experience that special place for yourself.
Youll be a different person when you come back.
Chip Minemyer is the executive editor of the Centre Daily Times. He can be reached at 231-4640. Follow him on Twitter @MinemyerChip