Shanksville, Pa. -- The eighth-grade class of St. Joseph School in Cuyahoga Falls traveled to Pennsylvania to see the site where 40 heroes died protecting American soil.
Thirty-one St. Joe's students boarded a motor coach the morning of April 3 for a three-hour bus ride to the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pa., where they learned about the heroic actions of the passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93 that thwarted the plans of terrorist-hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001.
The students were accompanied by their teacher, Jennifer Rauber; principal, Carrie DePasquale; St. Joseph Parish pastor, Fr. Jared Orndorff; as well as several parents, chaperones and guests.
Time was spent there hearing presentations by two national park rangers, walking the Flight Path Walkway and Memorial Parkway, viewing the impact site from the Overlook, and exploring the Visitor Center Complex paying respects at the Wall of Names.
The trip was funded through a grant from the Hope Always Lives On (HALO) Foundation in Akron and 93 cents for Flight 93. The eighth-grade class was awarded the grant because of the students' creative and successful fundraising projects, according to Mary Neugebauer, a student coordinator for the foundation who also made the trip.
Sharon Deitrick, the president and founder of HALO, spoke to the students during an orientation program at the school on March 31. She also started the 93 cents for Flight 93 program in which students from coast to coast and in Europe, New Zealand and Israel have participated, she said.
Deitrick said she got to know the people of Somerset, Pa. through her work as an architect which often requires her to drive to Washington, D.C. Many times, Deitrick said, she has met her Washington clients in Somerset which is a halfway between Akron and D.C.
"That's how we got to know the townsfolk of Somerset (population: 247) where the plane crashed," she said. "That's how I'm involved. After 9/11 and hearing one of the planes crashed in Somerset, Pa., I called and asked, 'Is there anything you need?'"
Not long after that call, while she was in town, some residents approached her and asked her if she could help the town raise the money needed to build a road to the crash site where they wanted to have a memorial service on the one-year anniversary of the tragedy. Deitrick said she prayed about it and developed a business plan for the project.
She said she and the people she worked with raised $1.3 million, enough to build the road, conduct the service and set aside toward building the memorial.
Deitrick said she believes Mrs. Rauber's class is her first group of students to go to the memorial who were not yet born at the time of 9/11. They were born between 2002 and 2003, Rauber said. During her program, Rauber's students presented Deitrick with a check for $1,600, money they raised through fundraisers.
Among those fundraisers were two Mission Mondays when students could dress down for school and, in a more creative vein, strips of duct tape were sold to tape Fr. Orndorf to a wall and chances were sold and put in a drawing to throw a pie at him, which one eighth-grade student, Charlie Domonkos, got to do.
Following the tour of the memorial, Charlie, 13, said he was impressed by what he saw. "It was a good way to honor the people who were on those flights," he said. "It was pretty informational. It had all the names, all kinds of relics."
Charlie said he learned a lot from the eyewitness stories the park rangers relayed, including that of an FBI agent who said she saw an angel. "I honestly think she did," he said. "God gave her a bunch of signs that He was there during their flight and brought them into heaven."
Classmate Colin Watson said he found "it so creative they way they made that path that showed the pathway of Flight 93." Colin said while he was in the Visitors' Center he was moved by the recordings of phone calls that were made on the plane. "It just made my heart break," he said. "I mean, people died. They were true heroes. I believe this is a beautiful memorial for true heroes."
Colin, born Feb. 9, 2002, said the Flight 93 National Memorial was worth the trip. "I would definitely come back again, and again with my own children one day," he said."
"Usually it's told as a story," said Isabelle Bailey, who turns 14 on May 2. "But actually seeing a place and seeing the video really helped it grow and be more than what people tell you and it's something I have now inside."
Mrs. Rauber said she believed it was important for the students to visit the memorial. "With the evidence these students saw today, they will be able to carry the message to their children and their grandchildren of the heroes of Flight 93." With what they learned, she said, "they can grow in their faith, make decisions to do the right thing and impact millions of people."
"This was a fabulous opportunity," said Mrs. DePasquale. "These kids dont have a sense of this history, and they cant understand why things are the way they are if they don't understand our past." While there, students presented the memorial's superintendent, Stephen M. Clark, with a banner signed by all of the eighth-graders who donated toward 93 cents for Flight 93. The class accepted a gift in a Flight 93 flag presented to them by Gregory Zaborowski, an education program specialist.
En route to the memorial, students and chaperones watched "United 93" on the bus. In scenes following the four hijackers' takeover of the plane, the film shows passengers and crew calling family and friends. During those calls where many said goodbye, several people learned the news of other planes crashing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The passengers of Flight 93 realized their plane was part of a planned attack. Passengers and crew then made a collective decision, by vote, to rush the terrorists and try to regain control of the plane. Through its findings after recovering the cockpit voice recorder, the 9/11 Commission reported the hijackers, although remaining in control of the plane, must have judged the passengers and crew were seconds from overcoming them.
To continued sounds of the counterattack, Flight 93 crashed in a field only 18 minutes from Washington, D.C., the hijackers' intended target.
Congress designated Flight 93's crash site as a national memorial in 2002. The Memorial has been created through a public-private partnership including Families of Flight 93, Friends of Flight 93, National Park Foundation and National Park Service. To learn how you can support the memorial, visit www.flight93friends.org.
Flight 93 National Memorial is one of more than 400 parks in the National Park System. To learn more about national parks, visit www.nps.gov.