When I found out early Monday morning that Osama Bin Laden had been killed by U.S. special forces, I was pleased to know that he would never have the satisfaction of getting away with his act of mass murder. At the same time, it rekindled memories from the past decade. Since that tragic day nearly ten years ago, I have had the personal honor to visit/view all three 9/11 attack locations. First the Pentagon from Arlington National Cemetery in 2002, then Shanksville, Pennsylvania, in 2007, and finally Ground Zero in 2010. Each was memorable in its own way.
Of the three sites, Shanksville, Pennsylvania, had the greatest impact on me. Why? Two reasons. First, the starkness of the crash site is bounded by the long, beautiful, tree-covered ridges of the Allegheny Mountains. Both the Pentagon and Ground Zero had extensive reconstruction taking place, which may have limited the visual impact. Shanksville also reminded me the most of a battlefield — so often they are situated in lovely locations. I find it quite ironic that such horror so often takes place amid such pastoral and scenic beauty. Antietam, Gettysburg, Saratoga, Chickamauga, Valley Forge, Bushy Run, Kennesaw Mountain, Cowpens, Little Big Horn, and many others are remarkably scenic considering what took place there.
The other factor which impacted me at Shanksville was the people. Out in the middle of nowhere makeshift shrines had been created. Visitors were listening to speakers discuss what happened there on September 11th, as well as the plans for a future memorial on the site. Others were deep in their own private thoughts, quietly reflecting on those who lost their lives.
At one especially poignant moment, a gentleman wearing jeans and a leather jacket rode up to the site on his motorcycle with a set of bagpipes strapped to the back of his seat. He quietly walked beyond the viewing area and out in front of the crowd. There he stood with only the crash site and the Pennsylvania landscape behind him and played a heart-stirring rendition of “Amazing Grace.” The couple hundred of us gathered in attendance were silent in unified spirit as he played each note perfectly on key. Upon completion of the song, everyone applauded. Afterwards, this gentleman quietly strode back to his Harley, reaffixed his bagpipes to the back of the seat, climbed aboard, and then fired up its engine and rode off. All in all, it was one of the most moving and patriotic experiences I have ever encountered.
I will always remember that gentleman on the motorcycle. It did not matter whether we were liberal, progressive or conservative; Republican, Democrat or Independent; native born or emigrant; male or female; tall or short; or young or old. For those few minutes while he played the bagpipes, we were as unified as Americans ever can or will be. My oh my, it was a great feeling.