Ambassadors and park rangers tell visitors to the Flight 93 National Memorial repeatedly, “It’s all about the heroes of Flight 93.”
Those would be the men and women aboard the United jetliner who made America’s first stand in the war on terror in the skies above Somerset County on Sept. 11, 2001.
When North Huntingdon resident and nationally known chalk artist Erik Greenawalt heard that during a family visit to the Somerset County site July 4, he was looking at the long concrete walkway at the memorial. The walkway traces the final flight path of the jetliner that crashed on a remote, rural hilltop on 9/11 as the passengers and crew coordinated an assault on the terrorists who had taken over United Flight 93.
“I saw all that concrete there and thought this would be an amazing place to chalk these heroes,” Greenawalt said.
Officials with the National Park Service listened to his proposal. They looked at some samples of his art and, after some discussion, were on board with the project scheduled to coincide with the 20th anniversary observation of 9/11.
For two days beginning Sept. 8, a group of nine chalk artists — some traveling from as far away as Florida and Colorado — will gather with Greenawalt at the memorial to create a 150-foot-long chalk art installation along the flight path walkway featuring portraits of the 40 passengers and crew members from Flight 93.
Given that chalk art tends to wash away and rain is always a possibility at the windswept National Memorial, the artists will create their work on 3-foot by 5-foot pieces of cement board that will be placed along the walkway. Greenawalt said, that way, they can be moved underneath the covering outside the visitor’s center in the event of bad weather and preserved for visitors to see later that week.
Known colloquially as street art, the ephemeral images the nation’s leading chalk artists create on concrete with soft pastels often rival fine portraiture.
A self-taught artist, Greenawalt, 43, goes by the handle The Chalking Dad. A CPA who works in corporate finance by day, his art evolved from the Disney princesses he drew in the driveway to entertain his young daughters 15 years ago to the stunning three-dimensional portraits he now creates on sidewalks far and wide.
Most weekends, Greenawalt can be found at Chalk Art festivals across the country creating likenesses of everyone from Civil War generals to Barbara Bush and Mister Rogers.
The chalk art installation is among several special events leading up to the solemn observation of the 20th anniversary of 9/11 at the Flight 93 National Memorial, where a ceremony will be held on Saturday, Sept. 11.
Hundreds of friends and family members of the passengers and crew of Flight 93 are expected for the 9:45 a.m. memorial service. The service is open to the public. It culminates in a walk to the gate at the memorial wall — which will be opened as it is once a year, for family members of the passengers and crew to make their way to the crash site at the edge of the woods.
Events open to the public the week leading up to the anniversary and the day after include a schedule of panels in the “Witness to History” speakers series, in which speakers share their firsthand experiences of 9/11.
Panels, with speakers yet to be finalized, tentatively are slated for Sept. 7 and 8.
Several other events are scheduled on the National Memorial website.
At 5 p.m. Sept. 9, the National Memorial will present “A Monumental Task: The Military and Civilian Air Response on Sept. 11, 2001.” Speakers for the panel will include officials from NORAD, the FAA and Cleveland Air Traffic Control who will recount their experience monitoring the path of Flight 93, ordering a shutdown of all commercial air traffic and scrambling fighter jets in anticipation of the need to defend U.S. airspace.
The speakers series continues at 3 p.m. Sept. 10 with “A Field of Honor Forever: Creating the Flight 93 National Memorial.” Speakers on the panel will recount the decade-plus effort behind the national memorial. Speakers include representatives of the Families of Flight 93, the Friends of Flight 93, local residents who participated in the planning process for the park, National Park Service officials who assisted in the planning and fundraising and the architect whose design was selected for the memorial.
On the evening of Sept. 10, 40 luminaria will be lit and carried by family members, guests and Friends of Flight 93 members to be placed below the names of each of the passengers and crew on the Wall of Names at the National Memorial.
The Johnstown Symphony will provide musical accompaniment for the ceremony, featuring selections by Gustav Mahler, Samuel Barber and George Walker.
At 10 a.m. Sept. 12, the National Memorial Witness to History series will present “Large Plane Down!: First Responders to Flight 93.” Members of the panel will include a state trooper, a paramedic and a volunteer firefighter who were among the earliest first responders on the crash scene the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
At 12:30 p.m. Sept. 12, the series will wrap up with “A Crime Scene: The Flight 93 Crash Investigation,” a panel featuring FBI agents who will recount their experience conducting the investigation at the crash site.
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