Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Greater Love Has No Man Than This ...

On a bright and blue skied day in late July we found ourselves driving wide expressways and winding two lanes between Cleveland, Ohio, and Richmond, Virginia.  Like Little Red Riding Hood we were on our way to grandparents house.  We did not happen across any wolves but we did discover a field where wolves died.

While driving down one of those beautiful Appalachian mountain highways we came across a sign pointing us to the "Flight 93 National Memorial." If your memory is eleven years long you will recall that this is the place where passenger's disrupted a hijacking attempt by suicidal terrorists on 9/11.  They wrestled the plane out of the hands of murderous wolves and, unfortunately, sent it hurtling into the pastoral tranquility of Shanksville, Pa.  In so doing they apparently saved the nation from having to build a new capital.  How many places can you go to within the borders of the United States in the post-civil war years and say, "Here is a place where men took a stand for freedom?"  Honestly, I cannot think of one other than this.  You can't be eleven miles from this kind of heroic history and fail to stop and pay your respects.

The field where the fallen heroes died is ... well ... a field.  That pretty much sums it up.  The point of impact is marked by a seventeen ton rock moved there after the crater was filled-in. If you follow the line created by the 40 marble markers dedicated to the passengers and crew of flight 93, you will see the incoming flight path of the plane over a long row of naked hills.  This is where the locals are attempting to reclaim the area marred by coal bearing strip mines.  You will also hear a National Park Ranger tell you that the huge jet came soaring over that nearest hill ... forty feet off the ground ... upside down ... at roughly 600mph ... and slammed into the ground directly in front of you. The very thought is jarring.  My first thought was simply, "No way."  The concept is totally out of place with the tranquility of the landscape.  Isn't that always true in war and in cemetaries?  Death should never mar beauty.  And yet it always does.

And you will wonder what it felt like to be on that jet.  Fighting.  Knowing you were about to die.  And you wonder if you have what it takes to make the decision they did.

You wonder what it felt like to be one of the men working in a scrap metal salvaging plant up on top of those hills as the jet sent them sprawling to the ground, convinced that it would not clear their heads.  And then as they felt the impact and saw the ball of fire erupt mushroom like, realizing that theirs were the last eyeballs to see these people alive.  And then when they discovered that these were not just ordinary men and women ... but patriots.  The first combatants in the war on terror.  And you realize that in death they won.  In death.  They ... won. 

It seems that victory is not defined by life.  It is defined by knowing "right" and doing it.  It is defined by honor.  By integrity.  No matter the cost.  Honestly, I doubt that the freedom fighters knew for certain that they were about to die until it was too late.  In my imagination I believe that they must have convinced themselves that they could regain control of the jetliner and somehow, miraculously, manage to land the thing.  That does nothing to diminsh their bravery.  It does not tarnish their sacrifice.  It makes them human.  And it reveals how strong and self-sacrificing they truly were.  For when their dreams of survival died they fought on.  Heroes till the very last inch.

Had they not fought we would have had a much different ending to 9/11.  We would have had a crater where the United States Capital building now stands.  That beaufitul and familiar dome would only exist in photographs today.  We would have had to face the trauma of completely restaffing congress.  And desipite jokes about how that might have been a good thing ... it most certainly would not have been.  America would have survived.  But think of the impact on our economy had the congress and the Capital been destroyed.  Think about what Wall Street would have done.  Think about suddenly being nearly leaderless.  Words like "Marshal Law" come to mind.  If frightens one to the core.

And the terrorists were only twenty-minutes (by air) from successfully accomplishing their task.

Twenty minutes.

I thank and honor the men and women on Flight 93.  I stand in awe of them.  When the coroner brought "cadaver dogs" to the scene after the FBI relenquished if from "crime scene" status, the dogs walked into the field ... and lay down.  They were overwhelmed.  This was their way of saying "Their are parts (fragments really) of bodies everywhere here."  And so the coroner had the field covered with five inches of top soil.  And he declared it a cemetary.  And he left it alone.

And it is holy ground in the truest sense of the word.

"Greater love has no man than this, that he lay his life down for his friend."  John 15: 13