Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Given the reverential atmosphere already existing at the Flight 93 National Memorial, tributes and testimonials of children in the form of images, words and favorite objects stir even more powerful emotions.

There’s one child’s drawing of a firefighter standing atop a ladder and aiming a hose at a smoking airplane that’s still flying. There are expressions of sorrow: “It’s so so sad.” Gratitude: “Thank you for my future.” And patriotism: “Thank you for helping me understand why my brother serves” in the military.

They represent what children have left behind at the memorial in Stonycreek, Somerset County, near Stoystown, in tribute to the 40 Flight 93 passengers and crew who revolted against four terrorist hijackers, leading to a crash 20 minutes short of it reaching the apparent target: the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

The small but mighty temporary exhibit, “Through Their Eyes,” will be at the memorial’s new Learning Center from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday in March, beginning this week.

One child left behind an airplane made of Legos. Another a favorite moose bearing his name. There are small toy firetrucks and a pack of Pokemon cards among other prized possessions left as symbols of tribute. There even are numerous baby pacifiers, which the National Park Service staff actually thinks represent thank-yous from parents for the heroic efforts to preserve their children’s future.

“Children want to know that their world is safe — that there are helpers to protect them and their families,” said memorial curator Barbara Black, who created the exhibit. “But they are also empathetic and compassionate when others are suffering.

“They will express themselves in an uninhibited manner — whether it’s through drawing, playing with toys or objects or, as they are able, expressing their thoughts in words,” she said.

“Through Their Eyes” represents the first of many temporary exhibits and events planned for the center, superintendent Stephen M. Clark said. But it also represents the final project of Ms. Black, who has been gathering Flight 93 tributes ever since the weeks following the crash into a stand of hemlock trees at an old strip-mine site.

The former curator at the Somerset Historical Center, Ms. Black was named the national memorial’s curator and chief of interpretation in 2004 and now is scheduled to retire April 1 with plans to continue there as a volunteer.

The problem, she said, was narrowing down what images, words and objects to use from the many thousands children have left behind over the past 15 years.

Here’s one that made it: “I threw a coin. I made bouquets. If you are here, thank you for the sacrifice,” said Damian P. Diehl, who included neither his age nor address.

Then there’s this portion of a poem from an anonymous teenager: “They tried to pull us apart/ They wanted to hurt us more than ever/ Instead, they pulled us all together.”

Read More