So. They were even braver than we knew. And the chaos at the end was more hellish than our worst imaginings. And we grieve again for the heroes of United Flight 93.
Yet four years on, surrounding the memorial to those gallant men, and to the flight crew and other passengers onboard, there is still uncertainty about what their memorial stands for and whether it reflects the valor of their deeds.
The winning design comes from architects Paul and Milena Murdoch of Los Angeles and is called the Crescent of Embrace. Because there is a natural bowl in the landscape of the spot where Flight 93 finally, after the struggle, went down, the red maples that the architects envisage planting around it form a crescent, and herein lies the controversy. Almost immediately after the winning design was announced, the blogosphere erupted into volcanic outrage. The crescent is, of course, the symbol of the religion of the individuals who murdered those onboard and who sought to destroy America, and that it is a crescent moon, not a crescent of trees, was discounted by those who thought they had spotted a secret agenda.
According to the winning submission, there will also be a Tower of Voices, featuring 40 wind chimes -- one to represent each passenger and flight crew member onboard on that fateful day. The wind chimes exacerbated what hundreds of bloggers and some respected national columnists, among them Michelle Malkin and Mark Steyn, saw as a celebration of passivity and appeasement rather than the bravery and patriotism that had been manifested. Mark Steyn wrote,
"That sounds like a fabulous winning entry -- in a competition to create a note-perfect parody of effete multicultural responses to terrorism. Indeed, if anything, it's too perfect a parody: the 'embrace' is just the usual huggy-weepy reconciliatory boilerplate, but the 'crescent' transforms its generic cultural abasement into something truly spectacular."
Yet family members of those who died, according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's reporter who was in Washington, DC for the unveiling of the winning design, were awed by it. Paula Reed Ward reported that a woman whose brother died onboard said, "It's powerful but understated. My breath is taken away."
A woman who was at the unveiling of the winning submission, whose daughter died in the hijack said, "The understatement speaks to the profoundness of what occurred here." Another woman, who lost her husband on Flight 93, said, "The void that's there speaks so loudly to the heroism of these 40 souls."
In addition to the huge crescent of trees and the Tower of Voices with wind chimes, there will be a low black, slanted plaza with niches for people to leave tributes. Many think that whole thing adds up to a distressingly politically correct piece of kumbayah instead of reflecting the sudden violence, drama and sacrifice of those who died. As Michelle Malkin wrote: "The phrase wasn't 'Let's meditate.' It was 'Let's roll'."
The consensus in the blogosphere at least seems to be that a simple granite slab in the lonely field chiseled with the words, "Let's roll!" followed by an engraved list of the names of the passengers and crew would be more in tune with the feelings of most Americans. Yet family members who have seen the renderings seem to feel it does their loved ones justice.
Architects, it must be said, more than any other profession save that of politician, tend to impose themselves and their own beliefs on their work, and many commentators sensed a soft leftwing Weltanschauung in the winning design that was not appropriate for a memorial to such courage. Architects Paul and Milena Murdoch say they threw themselves into the design and that the crescent with the trees was a natural response to the bowl in the landscape. They note that the memorial will continue to evolve because the maple trees will be planted when they are just 15 or 20 feet tall and will reach their full height in 40 or 50 years. Whether an evolving organic memorial is what people are looking is perhaps another question. Many want it in stone, for all time.
Perhaps the memorial will be impressive and moving when it is built, or perhaps Michelle Malkin, Mark Steyn and thousands of others are right. But it is moot. There was speculation on that day that the terrorists had intended to fly Flight 93 into the White House, but we know now the target was the American icon, the Capitol rotunda.
The rotunda's unharmed presence on Capitol Hill today, still speaking of power, continuity and national confidence, stars and stripes aloft and snapping in the breeze, is in itself the finest memorial to Todd Beamer and the others who so valiantly gave their lives to force the terrorists away from their nation's capital that terrible day.
The author is a TCS Contributing Writer.