'A special place': Flight 93 families lead walk to highlight overlook project

·3 min read

Sep. 11—SHANKSVILLE, Pa. — Tributes to Louis "Joey" Nacke fill the grounds of Flight 93 National Memorial, as they also do for the rest of the 40 men and women remembered as heroes at the site near Shanksville.

His name is etched in the white marble of the Wall of Names, and his image lives on inside the nearby Visitor Center.

But for his brother, Ken Nacke, and many other family members of United Airlines Flight 93's passengers and crew members, it's a far more ordinary site — a pastoral hillside below the shadow of the Visitor Center — where the link between their loved ones and their resting place seems the strongest, he said.

"This is the first place we went after the crash occurred. For our families, this is a special place," Ken Nacke said. "Standing here, you feel their presence."

Through the Friends of Flight 93 nonprofit, efforts are now underway to develop that area so that visitors can recapture the view that those families saw when they arrived at the crash site in September 2001, National Park Service officials said.

On Saturday, the day before the 21st anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Nacke and Gordon Felt were among a group of Flight 93 family members escorting a crowd of 240 people to that point — part of a "Heroes Walk" event aimed at raising money to fund the Western Overlook project.

"This is a place where visitors can get a different perspective on the Flight 93 story — hear our stories," said Felt, whose brother, Edward Felt, was a Flight 93 passenger.

Friends of Flight 93 Executive Director Donna Gibson said the group raised at least $54,000 toward the goal on Saturday — with hundreds more participants joining the walk virtually through a Facebook livestream.

Traveling along a more than two-mile path that circled the crash site, the crowd got a chance to hear firsthand stories about Flight 93 passengers and crew members.

Pat White shared memories of the difficult early days his family experienced after learning his cousin died in the crash — but he also pointed to the "unbreakable bond" among Flight 93 family members that was forged during those challenging days.

Kristen "Kiki" Homer told the group her brother, LeRoy Homer, was born to be a pilot and saved up money by working part-time jobs to pay his way through flight school.

"I never could have imagined such a horrible day could have a silver lining," she said, surrounded by fellow Flight 93 family members, supporters and the "peaceful" Somerset County countryside. "You've embraced all of us."

Ken Nacke said he first stepped foot on what is now Flight 93 National Memorial land just two days after September 11. He brought his parents and a seasonal potted mum — "for Mom" — in Joey's memory, not knowing what he'd find.

They ended up a few hundred yards uphill from the impact zone, yet Nacke said he found himself drawn to the beauty of the landscape that surrounded the scarred site.

It felt like home, he said.

"I still come back to this spot several times a year," he said, describing it as the families' original memorial site. "That land is now healed (from the crash) but this spot is still a powerful place."

Aside from Brian Himmler's background as a nearby Bedford County native, he and Gina Damm, of Susquehanna County, had no personal connection to the Flight 93 story. Yet year after year, they said, they've been drawn to it anyway, compelling them to join Saturday's fundraiser walk.

They praised the effort to enhance the hillside overlook.

"It's another way to honor them — the heroes of Flight 93 — and how they did what they could for our country that morning," Himmler said.

Park ranger Colleen Curry said design work is currently underway on the Western Overlook project. A meeting is planned for later this month with family stakeholders and the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation to discuss options to work toward developing a final design later this year.