Visiting the Flight 93 National Memorial

An overview of the Flight 93 crash site with some of the trees planted in honor of those who died.

Each time we visit our grandson and his parents in upstate New York, we try to stop at a new place on the way up or back, sometimes both. Returning home on our latest trip, we decided to visit the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

I had been to the Flight 93 crash site about a year after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. There wasn’t much to see back then. Visitors were required to view the crash site from afar. Consequently, you couldn’t see much.

A short chain link fence held memorials to the 40 victims and first responders. A firefighter’s turnout coat and helmet were the most apparent objects. Relatives and friends had attached photos of the deceased and fresh and plastic flowers that hung askew from the woven wire fence.

A photo taken seconds after Flight 93 crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

A long, single wooden bench sat tangent to the makeshift memorial fence. It served as both a resting place and a reminder not to go any farther. The plane had crashed into an old strip mine, which appeared to have been haphazardly reclaimed. You entered the area from the west on the old dirt pit road formerly used by coal trucks and excavating equipment. A small graveled parking lot had been developed north of the temporary memorial area.

I remember standing there in silence out of respect for these brave folks who deserved to be recognized and honored better than this. The desolate setting seemed to mock the tragedy. An abandoned rusting steam shovel sat overlooking it all. The starkness of the scene shocked me.

This visit was much different, however. The Flight 93 National Memorial was established in 2005 as a tribute to the passengers and crew of the fateful flight. The federal government bought up the land around the sacred site, which the National Park Service maintains. Creating the national memorial was a coordinated public-private effort that included the Families of Flight 93, Friends of Flight 93, the National Park Foundation, and the National Park Service.

We drove in and out of rain showers on our way to the site. The entrance is now off U.S. 30, the Lincoln Highway. A black-topped roadway winds three miles to the Visitors Center Complex. The road’s length allows visitors to respectfully transition from the present time back to that fateful day. The Visitors Center is located on a rise overlooking the crash site near the old parking lot. Exhibits recap the unfolding events of that terrible day through videos, photographs, newspaper clippings, and maps. The building itself is plain, unremarkable in design, and positioned to mark the final path of the flight.

The center also includes a bookstore, a viewing window, the Flight Path Walkway, and an Overlook. Since the crash left nothing more than a crater, a 17-ton bolder from the property was moved to mark the spot of the debris field. Visitors can walk or drive to the Memorial Plaza, located just north of the impact area. A Wall of Names points to the victims’ final resting place.

My wife and I arrived right after a school group did. Ranger Greg gave the youngsters and their chaperones an overview as we walked by them. Soon, they caught up to us in the exhibition room. We couldn’t help but hear Ranger Greg’s booming voice as we viewed the different displays. He certainly had the students’ attention as he told the story of Flight 93. He caught ours when he mentioned that the plane had veered off its scheduled path by abruptly turning southeast-bound over Canton, Ohio. My wife and I were both born in that blue-collar city. We walked closer to the group and listened as he told one aspect of the story after the other, most of which we had never heard before.

We drove to the Memorial Plaza, and volunteer ambassadors welcomed us. The rain intensity increased as Neva and I walked together quietly under a small blue umbrella, a fitting color for the place and mood. We stopped in front of the Wall of Names, an alphabetical listing of the flight’s crew and passengers. As I had experienced at the chain link fence two decades ago, memorial items had been left at some of the names. A wooden angel, fresh flowers, and a wine corkscrew rested beneath the first name on the black walkway. A volunteer explained why.

Christian Adams, a German citizen, worked for a German wine association. He was on his way to a wine convention in California that morning. The corkscrew served as yet another poignant symbol.

Items left at the Wall of Names in memory of Christian Adams

The dark walkway tiles represent the many cedar trees burned by the explosion and ensuing fire when Flight 93 dove into the ground upside down. A ceremonial gate of hewn cedar planks marks the way to the flight’s demise and the final resting place of those on board.

The radical changes I experienced gripped me. The 40 groves of 40 oak and maple trees planted in honor of the brave passengers and crew added a splash of russet to the fading fall landscape. Other volunteer trees sprouted from seeds planted by squirrels or blue jays or after lying dormant in the spoils of the old strip mine field. Today, they also serve as living memorials to the souls who lost their lives on that pleasant September day that turned so horrid.

We left with a new appreciation and a deeper understanding of what transpired on and to Flight 93. More than that, I was grateful for the simple, appropriate memorial that honored those brave, doomed souls.

The Visitors Center as viewed from Memorial Plaza.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

The pastor led in a final prayer of the private ceremony.

I stood at the back of the small group of relatives and friends of the deceased man I was about to help bury. It was my first experience covering the ashes of a person laid to rest in our church’s Memory Garden.

The day was hot and sticky, as many have been here in the Shenandoah Valley this summer. Earlier, I had helped the pastor set up the canopy to provide shade for the mourners. The giant pin oak tree in the center of this solemn place also helped scatter the sun’s blistering rays.

After setting up the canopy, I turned to dig the hole that would contain the cremated remains of this distinguished and much-loved man.

The summer heat and humidity spawned frequent scattered afternoon thunderstorms. This made the digging easy compared to the only other cremation hole I had dug before the rains came.

The small garden shovel easily sliced into the dirt. The top layers came out in clumps. When I switched to a hand trowel a foot below the surface, the moist earth crumbled as I tried to make the temporary incursion as close to round as possible.

I placed the clumpy clods on a sheet of transparent plastic between my excavation and the limestone wall that served as a solid privacy barrier to the memorial sanctuary. The garden is meant to be a place of rest and solitude for the living and the dead.

The man’s widow, three sons, and other family members arrived before either the pastor or me, and we were both early. They sat on padded chairs beneath the canopy as the pastor said a brief homily that clearly moved the small group of mourners.

I stood behind them, respectfully observing. After the final prayer, the pastor opened the urn and carefully poured the ashes into the hole.

I walked to the front and stepped onto the raised garden covered with newly planted myrtle sprigs. A few violet blossoms already appeared on the young plants.

I had never done this before and wanted to be as inconspicuous and respectful as possible. Though I didn’t look up, I sensed all eyes were on me.

I took the hand trowel and carefully scattered dirt to cover the powdery remains of this honorable man. I dutifully and diligently refilled the hole as compassionately as possible. I wanted my simple efforts to mirror their love for the husband, father, and grandfather.

When I reached the bigger clods of dirt that had been the first to be removed, I switched to the garden shovel. The hole was soon refilled. Without looking up, I used the hand trowel to softly scrape the remaining marbles of soil onto the top of this man’s resting place. I shook the finite remnants from the plastic as a final ceremonial blessing and quietly returned to my designated spot behind the mourners, tools and plastic in hand.

The pastor dismissed the mourners to the church for a light meal, but no one moved except to wipe away tears. The love for their husband, father, and grandfather hung heavy in the air, though sweetly, silently.

After the family finally retreated to the coolness of the church, I broke up the bigger clods of dirt, hoping they would settle more quickly over this learned man’s final resting place. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

The Memory Garden.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Final Thoughts on our European Trip

The view from the top of the “Finger building” at Mathildenhohe, Darmstadt, Germany.

My wife and I had never been to Europe before. Happily, we can no longer say that. We most certainly want to return to spend more time in places where we only touched the surface.

Given the state of the world, however, we are not sure when that will be. We do realize that time is running out. That’s my first reflection on our trip.

  1. We should have gone 20 years ago when we were younger, more agile, and had much more energy. But hindsight is so much easier than foresight. I will spend my days thankful for this trip, even if it is the only one we ever make to Europe. I pray that it won’t be.
  2. Europe is far ahead of the U.S. in being “green.” I mean green in every sense of the word. The wide use of solar and wind energy was apparent in cities and countrysides alike. In addition, the importance of preserving farmlands and forests truly impressed me. Cities, towns, and rural villages all seemed well-planned, allowing fertile soils to be used for crops. The farms we saw were pristine. Another green aspect was the extensive use of public transit, especially trains and hiking and biking paths that stretched far into the countryside and mountains. We found flower and vegetable gardens everywhere we went.
  3. We were impressed how clean everything was. Litter was almost non-existent, except for cigarette butts.
  4. We were rather surprised how casual Austria, Germany, and Switzerland were about Covid-19. Before we left, we had been advised that Europe was very strict and that we would need to show our Covid-19 vaccination cards to enter public places with large gatherings. That never happened. Most servers in restaurants didn’t wear masks. We all tested negative before boarding our return flight. However, 10 of our group of 39 tested positive for Covid-19 soon after arriving back in the states. Several took days to finally test negative. Consequently, my wife and I will likely not travel abroad until Covid-19 dies down further.
  5. I was greatly impressed with the infrastructure in Europe. The highways were smooth, well-maintained, well-marked, and easy to navigate. The number of tunnels also caught my attention. They, too, were well-kept and free of fumes. I suspected that tunnels also kept the integrity of the scenic landscape, instead of cutting huge gouges in hillsides and mountainsides, like is too often done in the U.S.
  6. We were surprised to see so little snow on the Alps. We were there in the middle of May. In checking with locals, I understood that snowfall was well below normal last winter.
  7. As humbling and haunting as it was, we were glad for the opportunity to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp. To say that time was a black mark on the human race is an understatement. We hope and pray it never happens again.
  8. People were friendly and patient with us everywhere we went, not counting the Frankfurt Airport. I have always liked visiting new places, and meeting new friends. It was especially nice for a follower of this blog and her husband to graciously show us around the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mathildenhohe in Darmstadt, Germany. It was a great way to finish up our whirlwind trip.
  9. Speaking of people, the 39 members of our tour group came from eight different states and one Canadian province. It’s fair to say that most didn’t know one another very well or at all before the trip. But the camaraderie and cooperation were exceptional throughout the trip, especially for the size of the group.
  10. Our bus driver Ivo, and our on-bus guide Sandra were excellent. The group applauded several times when Ivo made it around some very tight corners. Sandra was most helpful in making sure our mostly senior groups had the necessary rest stops. She was 78 herself. Lastly, our tour organizer Ed kept his calm even in the most chaotic situations. His faithful leadership was most appreciated.

My wife and I loved our first taste of Europe. We are also glad to be home safe and sound. I’ll fill you in on future blog posts about what we have been doing post-trip.

Thanks for reading and following along on our European Adventure.

Mad Prince Ludwig’s “Disney Castle.”

© Bruce Stambaugh 2022

Look for February’s hopeful signs

Amanda Gorman recites “The Hill We Climb” at the recent inauguration.

I have always had a thing for February. Perhaps it’s my penchant for the underdog.

After all, February is the shortest month of every year, even if it’s a leap year. Still, there is a charm about the second month that casts a spell on me.

As a youngster, I marveled at the array of holidays that February offered up. In elementary school, we drew and colored log cabins in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12. I’m so old that Congress hadn’t yet invented a Monday President’s Day holiday.

For inspiration for our amateurish creations, all we had to do was look up from our slanted-top wooden desks. A reproduced painting of Old Abe gazed down at us from above the slate blackboard.

Right beside him was the father of our country, George Washington. They both seemed rather grim and stern. But we were taught the romantic legends of these great men. They held my attention and respect for their leadership to the country.

The next art lesson was always preparing for Valentine’s Day. We all did our best to create and decorate our Valentine boxes to collect classmates’ Valentine’s. The expectations were that everyone gave a valentine to every other classmate. If I remember correctly, we even had contests for the prettiest, funniest, and most creative.

I don’t remember ever winning any awards, but that was insignificant. I looked forward to the Valentine’s parties with fruit punch and delicious homemade cookies that room mothers hosted. Besides, it got us out of class time.

We also cut out red, pink, and white hearts to plaster on the old single-pane, iron-framed windows that let in plenty of cold air even when they were closed. Thank goodness for the old silver-painted steam radiators that kept us cozy all through the winter.

Up next was George’s birthday on the 22nd. Black and brown axes and miniature cherry trees replaced the construction paper hearts on the windows. I often wonder if our teachers knew that that tale of chopping down the cherry tree was false even as they told it. If so, the irony itself makes my point.

Today, of course, we know better. Or at least we should. However, it astounds me that it has taken all these years to expose the uncomfortable facts. It is incumbent upon us all to learn about the ill-treatment of generations of people of color. History is only accurate when the truth is told.

Frederick Douglas grave, Mt. Hope Cemetery, Rochester, NY. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

February is Black History Month for a good reason. It expanded from Black History Week in honor of the birthday of both Lincoln and abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglas, who was born on the 20th.

I like February for other reasons, too. Despite the potential for additional cold temperatures and snow, signs of spring are emerging regardless of what Punxsutawney Phil predicts. We just have to pay attention.

A plant pushes through the mulch in early February. Photo by Bruce Stambaugh.

The days are growing longer. The sap is running, and maple sugaring is in full swing. Look closely, and you’ll discover shoots of green pushing their way ever so slowly through loamy soil and mulch. The promise of colorful blossoms emerges.

Migratory birds have already begun their trek north again. Those that dull their feathers for winter protection have started to molt into their mating regalia.

If a February thaw happens, our appetites for spring are wetted. However, let’s not be too anxious and get ahead of ourselves. There is still plenty of winter to come.

It may be the year’s shortest month, but February always has a lot to offer.

Mountain View Private School in a recent February snow.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2021

Subtle Beauty

The male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks usually get all the attention with the flashy rose-colored breast that is their namesake. The female is just as stunning with her variegated gray and brown feathers that beautifully accent her creamy whites. The eye-stripe is especially striking.

I hope you are fortunate enough to encounter both the male and female Rose-breasted Grosbeak as they migrate north to the nesting areas in the northeastern United States, around the Great Lakes states, and in the Appalachian Mountains.

“Subtle Beauty” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

Signs of Summer

With the summer solstice just past, summer is in full swing in Virginia’s bucolic Shenandoah Valley. The physical signs are everywhere in the rural agricultural areas of rolling farmfields and along roadsides.

Examples of summer’s arrival predominate My Photo of the Week, “Signs of Summer.” The azure chickory flowers side-by-side with the bright white blossoms of Queen Anne’s Lace fill the foreground along with unmown roadside grasses gone to seed.

Row after row of field corn run east to west to abutt a just-harvested winter wheat field. Note in the far left-hand corner the combine, tractors, and semi-trailers loaded with fresh-cut grain. In the background, the mixed hardwoods of Mole Hill, an ancient volcano, are full with their lush leaves.

Summer has arrived for sure in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

In honor of the day and my father

Richard H. Stambaugh by Bruce Stambaugh
My father, Richard H. Stambaugh, achieved a long-time goal when he was able to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. on September 12, 2009 thanks to Honor Flight. As part of a photographic review of the 21st century's first decade, this picture appeared on the front page of the on December 24, 2009, three days after Dad died.

The original article was first published on Nov. 11, 2011. I am republishing a revised version today in honor of Veteran’s Day in the U.S. and for all those who work globally for peace.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The very first sermon I heard preached in a Mennonite church 40 years ago was on nonresistance. That was precisely what I was looking for spiritually, and I embraced it. My father, a World War II veteran, was skeptical, but eventually accepted my decision.

Now years later, I was to accompany my 89-year-old father on a special excursion called Honor Flight for World War II vets. Dad was dying of cancer, and he had long wanted to make this trip to Washington, D.C. Regardless of physical condition, each of the 117 vets on the plane was required to have a guardian for the all-day round-trip. Given his physical situation, Dad needed extra care.

Given my nonresistance stance on war, I was reluctant to go. I likely would be the only conscientious objector on the packed plane. But this trip wasn’t about me. It was about my father fulfilling one of his dreams. To help him accomplish that, regardless of my personal convictions, I needed to go with him.

Bruce Craig and Dick by Bruce Stambaugh
My older brother, Craig, and I with our father, Dick, prior to leaving Akron-Canton Airport. Craig served as guardian for two other vets on the day-long trip

As anticipated, the vets received their patriotic just due. Upon arriving at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., fire trucks sprayed arches of water across our arriving jetliner. This ritual was usually reserved for dignitaries. As we exited the plane and entered the terminal, a concert band played patriotic music. Red, white and blue balloons were everywhere, and hundreds of volunteers vigorously greeted us.
Handshake by Bruce Stambaugh
Another veteran was the first to welcome Dad to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

At the circular, mostly granite World War II memorial, strangers came up to the vets and shook their hands and thanked them for their service. I emotionally took it all in, focusing my attention on caring for my elderly father.

The entourage visited several other war monuments in the U.S. capital that day, too. Back at the airport, we had left in the morning, the vets received a similar patriotic welcome home. Dad said this experience ranked right behind his 67- year marriage.

With that comment, I was exceedingly glad that I had had the chance to experience that day with my father. I felt honored to have been able to accompany him on his most significant day and glad he had gotten to go. Dad died three months later.

Despite all the hoopla of that day or perhaps because of it, the futility of war became all the more obvious to me and had actually reinforced my nonresistance stance. To a person, the vets with whom I spoke said they hated what they had had to do. I

Welcome home by Bruce Stambaugh
Hundreds of well-wishers greeted the vets upon their return to Ohio.
also remembered the words of Jesus, when he said to turn the other cheek and to go the second mile and beyond for your enemy.

For a day I had had one foot on the foundation of God and country, and the other on the teachings of Jesus. The trip with my father was an inspirational reminder of the commitment I had made as a young man to a different way of making peace in a hostile world.

Mailcall by Bruce Stambaugh
Each vet on the Honor Flight received letters to read during mail call on the flight home.

Because of this experience, I had bonded with my father in his time of need, and I greatly respected what my father and the other veterans on the flight had done. And yet, I knew I could not have done what they had, not because of cowardice, but out of conviction.

I had participated in the Honor Flight out of love and respect for my earthly father. I had held fast to my peace convictions out of love and devotion to my father in heaven. In that paradox, I had found no conflict whatsoever.

Bob Dole, WW II Memorial
When Dad spied Senator Bob Dole, who forged the way for the World War II Memorial, he rose out of his wheelchair and shuffled and squeezed his way beside the senator.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

This first article appeared in Rejoice!, the daily devotional for Mennonite Church USA.

Thankful for a colorful send-off

blooming dogwood, saying goodbye
Dogwoods abloom.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We couldn’t have picked a better time to move. The lush Ohio springtime ensured a colorful goodbye for us.

When it came to flowers and blooming trees and shrubs, it was, in fact, one of the most beautiful springs in memory. We didn’t have to go far to appreciate the beauty either. The pink dogwood tree I bought for Neva for Mother’s Day several years ago burst the brightest and fullest it had ever been.

Its sister dogwoods bloomed just as showy. Their lacy white flowers opened early and stayed late. I couldn’t have been more elated. Those trees and I go way back. Before our move from Killbuck, Ohio to our home near Berlin, I transplanted several trees from the little woods behind the house we had built. Three wild dogwoods were among them.

The trees graced our place with shade in the summer and sheltered nests of American Robins, Cedar Waxwings, and Chipping Sparrows. In the fall, their berries turned fire engine red while the leaves morphed from green to crimsons before winter’s winds blew them away.

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But it was the few weeks in the spring that I always treasured when the lovely, soft pedals bloomed pure white, crisp as snow, frilly as the daintiest lace. The lilacs also joined the show. Their lavender heads were full as possible. Their fragrances perfumed the air for days and days, temporarily compromising the simultaneous barn cleanings of the local farmers.

We would miss the peak display of iris, gladiolas, coneflowers, and cosmos. We knew that was part of the cost of moving.

Besides, we found love and beauty in other places. We met with as many friends and family as we could who had played important roles in our lifetime of Ohio living. Most of those gatherings occurred in the days and weeks just before the move.

Knowing time would be short, we actually began the goodbye process nearly a year ago. I did a farewell tour of the schools where I had served as principal for 21 years. I made my rounds one last time as a township trustee, too. I bid farewell to constituents who went out of their way to make my job easier.

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Our immediate neighbors held a potluck dinner for us and gave us a generous gift. Neva and I even made one last stop at the Farmers Produce Auction near Mt. Hope. Of course, we had to patronize Dan and Anna’s food stand.

Time didn’t permit us to meet with everyone of course. But we shared meals, stories, laughs, tears, and hugs with many, many folks. Some people sent us cards. Others popped in for a few moments for a final goodbye.

All of those contacts were bouquets more beautiful, more fragrant than any flower arrangement and blooming shrubs could possibly be. We deeply inhaled those most meaningful relationships.

Millersburg Mennonite Church
Greeting us at church.
Our final send off came from our little church of 46 years, Millersburg Mennonite. Without those characters and their unswerving support, we wouldn’t be the people we have become. I had to blame somebody.

Those gatherings empowered us to accept the reality of changing locales. The love and well wishes expressed gave us the strength we needed to begin anew. We can never, ever thank them enough.

As we drove out the drive for the last time, the dogwoods were at their summit. As lovely as they were, they still couldn’t compare to the radiance of the loving, lifetime friendships we had made.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

In the storm

snowstorm, Ohio's Amish country
In the storm.

What can I say? It’s winter. It’s Ohio. It snows. It’s also beautiful in Ohio’s Amish country.

“In the storm” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016


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