a sleepy Shanksville
By GREG BARRETT
Gannett News Service
SHANKSVILLE, Pa. — The elderly man with his back to the street did an about-face when he heard the caravan approaching. His salute was crisp and heartfelt. His was the first.
There would be hundreds more just like it as the processional of buses ferried family members to the rural Pennsylvania site where United Flight 93 had crashed six days earlier.
Shanksville’s residents had gathered along the streets in awe in the aftermath of Sept. 11. So many that its population seemed far more than its official 245, recalled author Glenn Kashurba, who recorded the day’s events.
On every block there were salutes and American flags and handwritten signs: Thank you. God Bless Flight 93. We Shall Never Forget.
Before the buses reached the last mile, Flight 93’s family members had begun reaching back, touching the bus windows as if to hold hands with their adopted community. This was their introduction to the town that would forever host their loved ones.
If the 40 passengers and crew of Flight 93 had to die Sept. 11, there was no better place than this, one grieving mother told psychiatrist Glenn Kashurba, a Red Cross counselor riding up front in that first caravan to the crash site.
One year later, Kashurba, medical director of the nearby Children’s Aid Home, is attempting to fill the gaps that history might otherwise miss. He took six months of unpaid leave to publish ``Courage After the Crash,’’ a 200-page compilation of interviews and anecdotes stemming from the aftermath of Flight 93.
With most of the national news media divided between the tragedies at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the comings, goings and heroics of Shanksville fell to the margins, he said.
``I’m hoping to connect the dots of that day so that it becomes more of a shared experience instead of three isolated incidents,’’ said Kashurba, 45, a father of three who is donating his book royalties to children’s charities and those of Sept. 11.
The initial battle on terrorism
On the morning of Sept. 11, Flight 93 left Newark, N.J., at 8:42 bound for San Francisco, but hijackers turned it around at Cleveland and headed in the direction of Washington. After a passenger revolt, the plane descended low and full-throttle over southern Pennsylvania.
America’s war on terrorism didn’t begin in Afghanistan, Kashurba likes to say. It began here.
The Boeing 757 roared dangerously low over a playground in Ligonier, 26 miles west of Shanksville, then careened east along Highway 30. It veered upward at the last second to miss a small hill at the Stoystown Auto Wreckers, then banked dangerously close to the dam at Indian Lake.
Shanksville Assistant Fire Chief Rick King recalled being on a mobile phone with his sister discussing the crashes at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Suddenly, he heard her shout, ``Ohmigosh, here comes a plane.’’
Minutes later, King and three volunteer firefighters were following the plume of smoke. King felt his mouth go dry. ``I can’t swallow,’’ he hollered.
That was the initial and collective response of Shanksville, a sedate 204-year-old town where tidy yards and polite demeanors seem better suited for Sunday worship than the Sunday front page. It’s dense with churches, cornfields, coal mines, dairy farms and, in the distance, ski resorts and state parks.
It’s also full of gumption. This is the same county that rose to the occasion when nine coal miners were trapped underground in July for three and a half days. Unlike the passengers of Flight 93, the miners lived.
``This area was primed for that whole thing,’’ Kashurba said of the rescue, which took place three miles from his office. ``I wonder if the miners would have been saved otherwise. …Our emergency management teams were so prepped and ready to go after all they’d been through on September 11th.’’
A school and a town saved
After buzzing Somerset County, Flight 93 burrowed into a secluded field that was a reclaimed strip mine, two miles from the district’s only school and its 500 pre-kindergarten to senior high school students.
The smoke was so thick that teachers thought there had been an explosion adjacent to the school’s playground. The following day, classes resumed with mental health counselors on hand. But it was the parents who used the counselors more than the students, said Superintendent Gary Singel.
The students soon were gleaning lessons from Sept. 11; studying different cultures, such as those of the Middle East, and different religions, such as Islam. ``It presented us with a lot of interesting studies,’’ Singel said.
On Sept. 11, Singel was at a funeral 30 miles away when he heard news of the crash. He rushed back to Shanksville, where a school board member told him, ``You would have been proud of the way (the staff) handled this.’’
Singel replied: ``And so?’’
He had expected nothing less.
Singel calls himself a practicing Catholic. Like others, he can’t say for sure what happened aboard Flight 93 or why Shanksville was spared. Two more seconds aloft and the school could have been rubble. A jerk to the north and the dam could have flooded the town.
``My folks always told me that God does not work alone. Obviously he inspired people in this case,’’ Singel said of the passengers of Flight 93. ``It’s absolutely amazing to us that the plane came down where it did. It’s the only place within a 10-mile radius’’ where it could have crashed without claiming additional lives.
’A Friendly Little Town’
The bus rides on Sept. 17 with the Flight 93 families began in tense silence, Kashurba recalled. By then, everyone knew the crash site was a gravesite. On each bus were religious and mental health counselors, a Red Cross nurse and a tank of oxygen.
As the half dozen buses approached the town on Highway 31, flags were draped on businesses and homes. There were signs everywhere. By the time they entered the red brick neighborhoods of downtown Shanksville, residents were clustered on the road’s shoulder every 100 yards or so. Closer to the site, the crowds were thicker.
Then turning onto the gravel road leading to the ominous field, there were hundreds of state troopers standing at attention.
The final mile was lined with salutes.
``I hope they know how much we appreciate them,’’ one mother whispered to Kashurba.
``We hope you know how much we appreciate you,’’ he replied.
Today, there’s a new sign erected at Shanksville’s border. It’s posted on the same route that ushered the buses into town.
``Welcome to Shanksville: A Friendly Little Town.’’
Gannett News Service special report
CLEARING THE SKIES
A YEAR OF RECOVERY
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