By Hannah McBean
As I stepped off the charter bus that had shuttled me and the other Penn State New Kensington students and faculty to the memorial, I was immediately humbled. For although the sun shined brightly, almost with a fluorescent glow, the darkness of why I was there overshadowed the light.
Yes, it was a beautiful morning in Shanksville, Pa., at the Flight 93 Memorial on September 11, 2011. The fields of grass were flawless and green and mixed with the delicate yellow flowers that seemed to have budded just for this occasion. I was embraced by the wind as if the heroes of Flight 93 sent an adoring greeting for all who came to pay homage. The air was so fresh, crisp and cleaner than anything I had ever inhaled. As I breathed this purifying breeze it silenced my fears of the dreadful day of 9/11.
We could not enter into the memorial until we were scanned by the metal detectors and our belongings were examined before stepping onto that holy ground. After the swift check through security I looked down at my feet to see that no longer were we walking on a gray concrete slab but it had changed to a black pavement laid to perfection. As we continued north, to our left hand side was the Field of Honor shielded by an almost ceramic black wall about the height of our torso. This is where the plane had crashed killing 40 innocent lives. With every stride down that path my spirit bowed and paid respect to the heroes of Flight 93. Never before did the simple process of walking seem so complicated until this day. This day, my walk was no longer a mere gait but it had become a march of adoration.
There were hundreds upon hundreds of people that gathered at the ceremony. Voices of children sang the “Star Spangled Banner.” The children sang another song, however, the name of it escapes me but they sang about peace on earth. We bowed our heads for a moment of silence. Then, the most touching, heart shaking moment, the loved ones of the deceased heroes recited their names. Mothers announced their children, children announced their parents, brothers their sisters and so on. One particular announcement shook my being. A broken voice approached the microphone and said her daughters name and unborn child. After each name was called a bell was run. Not just any normal ring but it was a deep gong sound that must have been heard by the earth’s core. This sound broke through the hushed silence of the crowd and commanded us to remember.
When the ceremony concluded, a rumor arose that President Barack Obama was on his way to the memorial. Quickly, this rumor was whispered through the crowd and was confirmed by the helicopters that patrolled the sky. Around and around they flew. All of our eyes followed intently waiting for the appearance of Air Force One. The President’s aircraft landed out of sight amidst the field. I had noticed that there was a stir on the other side of the memorial and broadcasters and journalist were flocking to the west of the memorial. We were sitting and waiting on the east side of the memorial. With that shocking news myself and some of the other students made haste to the west. Jogging and running through crowds of people, standing on benches, leaning on the shoulders of strangers we were determined to see Mr. President and The First Lady.
If I could just get a glimpse of them, I knew that would be enough. Peaking around the shoulder of a stranger, who was polite enough to lean to clear my view, I saw the King and Queen of the United States! President Obama and First Lady Michelle went to the bereaved, family by family, and consoled their hearts. This was very significant for me to have seen this. For it is pertinent for Americans to know that their leader cares and is concerned about their mental and physical well being.
When I returned home my husband, children and I huddled around the computer to see the photos that I had collected. Some of the photos were from other PSNK students that had shared them with me. None the less, I was in the presence of royalty! I was breathing the same air in the same vicinity! I, Hannah McBean, 32 years of age, a stay at home mother of six, saw the President and his wife, the hope of America.