By Jonathan Tamari Philadelphia Inquirer Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON – A few of the family members were together again Tuesday, gathered inside the Capitol – the building that might have been struck had their relatives not fought for control of United Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, bringing it down in a Pennsylvania field.
“It’s good to be together again, as it always is,” said Gordon Felt, wearing an American flag tie and 9/11 pin.
Felt’s brother, Edward, was a computer systems engineer on the Newark-to-San Francisco flight that was hijacked and turned toward Washington – headed toward the Capitol, authorities believe – before the passengers and crew fought back. The plane crashed in Shanksville, Pa., killing everyone on board but averting further harm in the nation’s capital.
More than 11 years later, the family members of the 40 people on board are pushing to complete the Shanksville memorial to their loved ones, seeking to privately raise the last $5 million still needed to complete the project. Felt and other family members went to Washington Tuesday as Kris Toomey, wife of Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, led a news conference to raise awareness of the remaining need, and recounted her own story of worry as 9/11 unfolded.
On the morning of the attacks she was at home in Zionsville, Pa., with the couple’s two children. (They have since had a third.) Her husband, then a Berks County congressman, was in the Capitol, and she heard the news that one plane had already struck the Pentagon.
She choked up while remembering.
“I am thankful that Pat was able to come home,” she said, fighting back tears.
The implication was clear: the actions on the plane may have kept her husband out of danger. The plane went down in her home state instead.
The memorial being built at Shanksville has attracted more than 450,000 visitors since it was dedicated on September 11, 2011, but the families are still working to see the project completed.
“I really don’t think people are aware that they don’t have the funding,” Kris Toomey said. “I think everyone believes that it should be completed and they are unaware that they didn’t have it completed and that they don’t have the funds to get going on the next, final phase.”
She addressed an audience that included Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) and his wife and several other members of Congress.
Around $66 million has been spent so far on the memorial, including $32 million from private sources. The last piece of fund-raising is needed to pay for an educational center to retell the story of Flight 93, particularly to children too young to remember 9/11, and to build a “Tower of Voices,” a 93-foot structure with 40 wind chimes, one for each of the passengers and crew members.
“How can we not honor those 40 individuals who have been woven into the fabric of our nation’s proud history?” Felt asked. “The Flight 93 National Memorial will ensure that their efforts, that their actions, that their spirit, will not be forgotten.”
Calvin Wilson, whose brother-in-law LeRoy Homer, Jr. was the copilot on the flight, said, “To see this thing completed would mean absolutely the world to me.”
After he finished speaking to reporters, Felt approached Wilson. The men shook hands, then hugged.