This summer I had the opportunity to return to the memorial site for United Flight 93, the last of the four hijacked planes to crash on Sept. 11, 2001.

My first visit to the site near Shanksburg, Pa., was in 2006, when a temporary memorial had been erected. We were up on a hill, looking down at the actual crash site, maybe a mile away (I’m not really good at judging distances; suffice it to say, it was far away). We were too far to really see anything, but the feelings it elicited were strong.

The largest part of the temporary memorial was a wooden wall upon which people nailed or otherwise attached sentimental objects, including a firefighter’s jacket and helmet, Little League uniforms, many flowers and notes and many, many American flags. The site also had 40 stone benches, each engraved with the name of one of the passengers or crew who died that day.

It was a somber, life-changing experience.

My visit to the first part of the permanent memorial was a different experience. It is an official National Park Service site, and is neat and clean.

The differences between the two memorials were striking. Signs directing motorists to the site start appearing 30 miles away; finding the first site was like being on a scavenger hunt with few clues given.

The new site is much closer to the actual crash site, in fact, visitors can see (without binoculars) a boulder that has been placed on the hole in the ground about 500 feet away.

The names of each of the passengers and crew are engraved on their own marble panels, about 8 feet tall by 2 feet wide.

The information booth at the temporary memorial was staffed by local residents, who considered it their sacred duty to pass along what information they had to visitors.

The permanent memorial has a National Park Service ranger on duty. The one I spoke with was kind and was a fountain of information, but frankly she looked too young to have been affected personally by the events of 9/11.

The black marble wall leading to the Wall of Names had a few niches carved out, where people could leave small items. The day I was there someone had left a baseball signed by many people and another person had left a police officer’s badge. I saw notes, a fiber bracelet and some flowers and stones.

I asked the ranger what happened to all the other mementos that had been left. She said everything — more than 60,000 items — is in storage, and they were trying to decide what would be placed in the permanent memorial.

The new memorial is in keeping with other national memorials: It is neat and clean, but feeling somewhat sterile. The temporary memorial felt more like the feeling of 9/11 itself: Dirty, haphazard, raw and anything but sterile.

I’m glad I got to see the crash site of Flight 93 before it was sanitized.

Stephanie Law is a copy editor for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel.

The new permanent memorial to the passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in a field in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The new permanent memorial to the passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in a field in southwestern Pennsylvania. (Photo by Stephanie Law) Photos by Stephanie Law

A sign near the beginning of the long and winding road leading to the memorial.

A sign near the beginning of the long and winding road leading to the memorial. (Photo by Stephanie Law)

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