By Amber Rosado Daily American
Shanksville native Chuck Wagner goes through the four volumes of photographs he’s taken at the Flight 93 memorial during the years. The photographs include visits from families of the victims and various dignitaries. Photo: Amber Rosado
As a second generation photographer, Chuck Wagner has always had a passion for pictures.
He has turned his hobby into a unique way to document a national tragedy — Flight 93. Throughout his years working as a Flight 93 ambassador, Wagner has managed to obtain beautiful and moving photography of the ceremonies at the Flight 93 memorial site in Stonycreek Township. Flight 93 was hijacked on September 11, 2001, and crashed in a field as part of the terrorist attacks. His passion to document events started when he was young.
Wagner said he remembers spending time with his family during his childhood in Buckstown looking at slide shows of family vacations and events. After getting married, he continued this tradition with his children.
“We’ll still get the old photos out and have a chuckle,” Wagner said.
In 2001 Wagner was in a training session in Ebensburg when he received the call from his daughter about the Flight 93 plane crash.
“She couldn’t get to her house, which was about a mile from the site, because the roads were blocked off,” Wagner said. He said he arrived home about two hours later.
Wagner said he felt compelled to help during this tragedy, so he decided to work with the local Salvation Army to help deliver meals to the volunteers.
Various local businesses donated meals for volunteers.
“We got a call from a place in Johnstown called Wonder Bread, they wanted to donate Twinkies. So I went down, got them, it was so funny to see the truck full of Twinkies,” Wagner said.
Wagner also helped with the excavation of the crash site.
He worked on site running a machine. His group worked with the Evidence Response Team from Knoxville, Tenn.
Wagner said most days were spent — from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. — raking through the dirt looking for items from the plane.
Wagner said the site was the only one of the three attacks — the others were in New York City and at the Pentagon — that could provide evidence of the terrorists.
“Our group found a pocket-sized notebook with handwriting, a jacket, a Canadian coin and flight tickets,” Wagner said. These items were later sent back to Washington, D.C., and used to study the attacks. The group also found various items that were sent back to families of the victims.
He said the mood on the site was sober and focused. He said workers were driven.
“I just wanted to be able to do something for the cause. America was hurting at the time,” Wagner said.
After the cleanup, a temporary memorial was dedicated to the victims of the crash. Wagner, who had become part of the memorial grounds maintenance committee, started to photograph everything at the site. He has four volumes of pictures documenting events and anniversaries held at the memorial. Wagner would take pictures of ceremonies and send them to families who could not attend.
His wife, Jane Wagner, said her favorite picture is the one of a victim’s mother with an FBI agent. She said it’s convenient for Chuck to live so close to the memorial.
“It’s easy for him to get a picture if there’s a beautiful sunset. Whatever’s going on he’s up there taking pictures,” Jane Wagner said.
Chuck Wagner has donated more than 3,000 pictures to Flight 93 memorial curator, Barbara Black. Wagner said that in the future he wants to compile a photography book to help people understand Flight 93.
“As a Christian, I felt fulfilled to help meet the needs of the area at the time. I am humbled by the opportunity to make several friendships,” Wagner said.