Some places just leave you speechless

I’ve been fortunate to visit as many places as I?have in my life, seeing many places from Boston to Disney World, from Washington, D.C. to the Grand Canyon.

Each has a special memory, or a special feeling associated with it. Many revolve around family and fun vacations. A few involved educational experiences and some were more about discovering something about myself or someone else.

Last weekend, my family took a quick trip into central Pennsylvania for a brief getaway. On our way home, we stopped at the Flight 93 Memorial near Shanksville, Pa., a place dedicated to the brave men and women who fought back against the terrorists who took over the flight as part of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

The memorial is located along the spot where the plane came down, right in the middle of an empty field several miles from the closest town.

It’s a simple place. No large, elaborate signs. No vaulting towers soaring over the landscape.

You turn off the U.S. Route 30, drive a few miles out into the grasslands of Pennsylvania and you’re there.

A long walkway leads to the memorial itself, a wall, facing away from the crash site, the name of a passenger or crew member on each section.

It was raining that day, a further reflecting of the quiet and somberness reflected by the site.

I didn’t say much. What is there to say really? To me, the memorial is a place to remember. It’s a place to honor those brave individuals – civilians for the most part – who weren’t afraid to stand up for their nation and save the lives of others.

You look around, you read the names on that wall, you see the trinkets left by visitors as tribute to that bravery. All the while, you’re surrounded by a stillness, with that monument and the road leading up to it the only real sign of civilization for several miles.

I’ve not been to Washington, D.C. since well before 9/11, but I imagine little has changed, with the exception of some heightened security.

The Pentagon was repaired and people have obviously gone back to work.

New York, of course, is another story entirely.

There’s a photo we have from an early trip through the area in which I, my mom, sister and brother are standing on Liberty Island, the Manhattan skyline in the background. Chief among that view was the Twin Towers.

I’ve been able to visit the Big Apple twice in recent years, and while it’s still busy with the hustle and bustle of city life, there is a noticeable difference.

There was a distinct emptiness where those towers once stood. Even those who had never been there before could probably tell something was missing.

Even now, with the new towers touching the skies, it is different. And down below, where the original towers once stood, is the 9/11 Memorial park, with fountains where the buildings once stood.

It’s surrounded by noise, but still has its own sense of peace.

There’s a sense of stillness, even though you’re in the middle of a great metropolis.

But, at the same time, it’s difficult to describe what you’re feeling while there. You’re surrounded by trees, people, skyscrapers, with the sounds of falling water and car horns blaring around you.

Then it hits you what happened there almost 12 years ago. You see the names inscribed on the monuments surrounding the fountains; the names of all those who lost their lives, and you just don’t know what to say or how to say it.

I’ve heard people have had a similar reaction while visiting Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Even now, generations after those attacks, people see the memorial, can look at some of the remnants of that infamous day, and feel a sadness along with a sense of wonder.

I can only imagine what people will feel 60 or 70 years from now, when the Sept. 11 attacks are no longer fresh in the minds of our nation.

Will they truly understand the reasoning for these memorials? Will they even visit them?

If they do, will the experience still leave them speechless?

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)