Windber teen helps kids understand Flight 93 Memorial in Somerset

By Mary Pickels Trib Live

Most visitors to the Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County know the story of the nation’s newest national park.

They are aware that the memorial pays tribute to the 40 passengers and crew aboard United Flight 93 who, on September 11, 2001, fought back against the plane’s hijackers, thwarting a planned terrorist attack on the nation’s capital.

They lay flowers and notes at the Wall of Names and fall silent at the spot where the San Francisco-bound jetliner crashed near Shanksville.

Sometimes, they cry.

The narrative and the emotions the site evokes can be confusing for children, who were very young or not yet born in 2001.

Sarah Hartman, 17, helps bridge the chasm between adults’ and children’s perceptions of the park by volunteering at its Children’s Discovery Table.

“I think kids find it easier to talk to me because I’m like a big sister,” Hartman said.

She also volunteers with the park’s reforestation effort and with the Somerset County Mobile Food Bank through her school student council.

Hartman, a senior at Windber Area High School, joined other volunteers in the memorial plaza visitor shelter last summer.

“I love kids. My mom asked me if I wanted to help out. I was really excited,” Hartman said.

Her mother, MaryJane, is a park ranger, and her father, Larry, is a law enforcement ranger for the National Park Service.

MaryJane Hartman and Adam Shaffer, a fellow Flight 93 park ranger, developed the discovery table two years ago. The concept proved popular, and the Friends of Flight 93 secured a National Environmental Education Foundation grant to continue the program for young visitors.

“Parents bring (children) here and tell them to be very respectful: this is like a cemetery, don’t run,” MaryJane Hartman said.

“I have kids come up and ask to see a piece of the plane. We have to tell them there are no remnants of the plane,” Sarah Hartman said.

She pointed to a collection of hats worn by first responders at the crash scene and an airline pilot’s cap.

“We have them so people know there were good people (helping) after such a devastating event. (Children) like things they can touch,” Sarah Hartman said.

Among those items are tributes — toys and stuffed animals — kids have left at the memorial.

“These are some of the animal tracks (made from molds) you can find here in the park,” Sarah told children approaching the table.

“Do you know what this one is?” she asked a young boy.

“Bear,” he said.

He then identified turkey feathers and deer antlers.

“Good job,” she told him.

Visitors can touch a lump of coal, which once was mined beneath the crash site; white marble, like the type used for the Wall of Names; and black granite, which forms the flight path walkway.

Five miniature flags represent the passengers’ nationalities: United States, Germany, Japan, New Zealand and Puerto Rico.

On a recent Saturday, adults and children lingered at the table.

Elizabeth King, 13, of Alexandria, Va., and her family were seeing the memorial for the first time.

Elizabeth was 5 months old on 9/11. Her father, Robert King, had dropped her off at day care that morning. The third hijacked plane had struck between the time he left the day care and when he drove past the Pentagon.

“You could see the flames,” King said.

He and his wife, Patricia King, couldn’t re-enter the city to pick up their daughter because all highways leading into Washington were closed. The day care was evacuated, and the family was reunited that evening, King said.

At the Flight 93 memorial, Elizabeth carefully wrote a paper tribute to leave on a wreath near the discovery table.

“Thank you for saving the Capitol,” she wrote.

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