May 25—STOYSTOWN — The spot where United Flight 93 crashed on Sept. 11, 2001, has grown to become a $58 million memorial to the 40 men and women credited with fighting back against their hijackers that day.
An effort is underway nearby to honor the thousands who have continued that fight for the nearly 20 years since.
A Somerset County-based nonprofit has launched a campaign to raise $35,000 to begin developing Patriot Park, which members envision as a heartfelt tribute to the hundreds of thousands who have served during the "global war on terrorism" and the 7,036 men and women who have given their lives during that 20-year span.
The park would be located across Route 30 from the Flight 93 National Memorial's entrance, as shown in an artist's rendering, within the national park's boundaries.
"We're looking at this as a place to tell their stories — not just the more than 7,000 who died but also the millions who have served — the people who gave up their lives at home or were called into duty while they were in college to fight for their country," foundation President Randy Musser told The Tribune-Democrat on Tuesday.
Musser, a local engineer, created the Patriot Park Foundation nearly four years ago.
The foundation's 10-member board includes retired service members and a Gold Star Mother, Kathy Walker, whose son died in Iraq, Musser said.
Musser's son-in-law served in Afghanistan.
He was among 2.7 million individuals who served in Iraq and Afghanistan's ever-changing war zones since 2001, according to a Brown University report.
Many returned for multiple tours, spanning years of clashes with Al-Qaeda, the Afghan-based Taliban movement and other extremist militant groups during what became America's longest war.
As time passes, Musser said he fears the sacrifices made by so many young Armed Service members in the wake of the 9/11 attacks could be forgotten.
"I think we owe them a debt of gratitude," he said. "Their stories should live on."
The Route 30 park would be developed for that purpose, he said.
It will feature a monument that includes a statue of a kneeling soldier and a brick walkway lined with the names of those killed overseas. Displays alongside the plaza will honor those who served, educate the public about their actions and inspire a new generation, the foundation's patriotparkfoundation.org website shows.
The group's fundraiser kickoff aims to get the project's first phase underway. It would create a parking area, a field of 7,000 flags and storyboards to educate visitors about Iraq and Afghanistan war heroes and future plans for the park, Musser said.
The group is aiming to raise $35,000 over the next several weeks to get started.
In-kind donations from area businesses — including parking lot stone from PBS Coals and preliminary site preparation by Jenner Township-based Berkey Excavating has already been pledged, Musser added.
"Our focus this year is to have something there for people to stop and learn more about what we are working to accomplish," Musser said. "And what better place than the site where the sacred ground where we first started fighting back."
A fund has been established through the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies to manage the donations received for the project.
Musser said he's hopeful residents across the region — and nation — will step forward to lend support.
"We're just getting started," he said.
Frances Thompson praised the effort Tuesday.
Reminders of her son, Pfc. Nils G. Thompson, still fill her family's pastoral Confluence-area farm 16 years after his death, she said.
But Thompson said she was more than willing to share stories about her son's life with Musser's foundation — including his final moments patrolling the area surrounding an Iraqi police station in Mosul in 2005.
A sniper's bullet took his life — just one day after he turned 19 years old, she said.
"He was a godly boy. And all his life he wanted to be in the Army," she said. "We were lucky to have him."
And Somerset County will be lucky to have a memorial to those who gave their lives for their nation during those difficult days, she said.
"What they're doing," she said. "I think it's wonderful."