2011-05-05 / Local & State

Panel Seeking Theme For Flight 93 Memorial

By Bernie Hornick

SHANKSVILLE, Pa. (AP) – The National Park Service has convened a panel to devise an interpretive theme for the Flight 93 National Memorial, a lens through which visitors will view a site that 10 years later still provokes emotion.

The task is no small one.

The panel must balance the demands of disparate groups from historians and sociologists to family members, while recognizing the crash site as the final resting place for 44 people aboard the ill-fated jetliner.

The panel includes scholars, Flight 93 commissioners, local residents and family members, said Keith Newlin, National Park Service supervisor for western Pennsylvania.

The park service website says thematic frameworks are necessary, in part, “in enhancing park interpretive programs to provide a fuller understanding of the nation's past.”

Jeff Reinbold, site manager for the park service, said several memorial topics may be combined into one theme. Topics to be explored are:

The actions of Sept. 11, 2001, including details on how the day played out.

How people and the nation as a whole were affected by the attacks. This could include everything from the war against terrorism to color-coded threat levels and airport patdowns.

And honoring the 40 innocent passengers and crew of Flight 93.

The eventual theme, Newlin said, will help the park service “expound on why the park was established by Congress.”

“As long as you tie that back into the enabling legislation, that's a good thing.”

And the public has not been excluded from the process. Newlin said written comments from visitors to the site also have been reviewed to see where the interest lies.

Visitors might come to know the memorial's eventual theme only indirectly, Reinbold said.

That's because the theme is more of a behind-the- scenes guidepost. But that prism will determine how information is presented to the public, both at the visitors center and at exhibits near the field of honor.

“The interpretive planners say you want to repeat your message as often as possible,” Newlin said.

“When you raise the emotions of individuals, you don't know what type of information they retain. The entire park design is intended to evoke emotion from the visitors.”

Coming up with that message can even spark debates over individual words.

For instance, does one refer to the 40 innocent passengers and crew who lost their lives as “victims”?

Some argue they are not victims, which may imply they passively sat back and accepted their fate. After all, they prevented a jet from perhaps crashing into the Capitol. On the other hand, a coroner ruled their deaths as homicide. And their deaths provided the rationale for war.

Then there's the matter of arithmetic.

Speakers have referred to the 40 people killed aboard Flight 93. But 44 people died in that field, including four terrorists.

How to deal with myriad sensitivities as these _ perhaps pitting accuracy against political motivations _ must be decided before the first information plaques are erected.

Reinbold said an interpretation and education plan for the memorial will be done by fall.

The National Park Service will make the final decision as to how information is presented.

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