SHANKSVILLE, Pa. — Each of the five members of the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance advisory board who pedaled their bikes through Somerset and Cambria counties on Sunday wore a red, white and blue windbreaker with one star on the back.
The image was meant as a symbol of unity for the group, which is taking the first-ever bicycle tour to the three sites involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks: a field in Somerset County, the former site of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.
“We are one nation, instead of a series of states,” said Andy Hamilton, the group’s chairman.
“We are one memorial, instead of three separate memorials. We’re bringing them together, all as one.”
Hamilton, along with Wayne Clark, Cyndi Steiner, Anne Maleady and Eric Brenner, started their 23-day, 1,300-mile journey along the trail network on April 11 at the Pentagon.
Their planned trip will take them through major metropolitan areas and small rural towns.
“Doing the inaugural ride of the trail is going to have all the communities along the corridor – all sorts of different groups of people, veterans, et cetera – realize that this is an opportunity to have a pilgrimage trail for themselves,” Hamilton said.
“Knitting the communities together as one to these memorials is really a significant thing, especially when we get into these small communities that are based in rural Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware. It’s a really wonderful opportunity to connect these three places as one.”
The riders and their supporters rolled into the Flight 93 National Memorial at about 10 a.m. Sunday. They viewed the grounds and heard a presentation from park ranger John Bernstiel, who told how 40 people aboard United Airlines Flight 93 fought back against al-Qaida hijackers before the plane crashed in Somerset County.
“It really means a lot to us that people come out here and help us memorialize these 40 individuals,” Bernstiel said.
Since then, the crash site has become a national memorial and a tribute to their memories.
“It’s just great to have them here to see what we’ve done, what we’ve accomplished over the last 18 years,” Donna Gibson, president of the Friends of Flight 93 National Memorial, said.
“The idea of being able to connect these sites via a trail system is going to have impact beyond the idea of honoring these people – which is of the utmost importance – but it’s more about giving people the means to get out and see all these sites and do this as a pilgrimage-type trail, which I don’t think we really have in the United States,” Brett Hollern, Somerset County’s trail manager, said.
After leaving the Flight 93 memorial, the riders headed toward Johnstown.
“This ride is a great way to build awareness of this national trail,” said Brad Clemenson, a member of the trail group’s advisory board and coordinator of Lift Johnstown. “I’m especially excited because more people will realize that this trail is coming right through the heart of Johnstown.”
Information from: The Tribune-Democrat, http://www.tribune-democrat.com