IMPACT
06/13/2011 04:31 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Flight 93 National Memorial Lacks Funds To Complete Construction

WASHINGTON -- Maybe it's because it's located in rural Pennsylvania. Or maybe it's because its two biggest champions in Congress are gone. Perhaps it's because corporations are more eager to spend on the naming rights to a big city stadium than donate to help an isolated memorial remember 40 heroes.

Whatever the reason, as the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks approaches, the Flight 93 National Memorial remains the only tribute to the victims of that day that doesn't have enough money to complete construction.

"The 10th year is the pivotal year for fundraising," Gordie Felt, president of the Families of Flight 93, told The Huffington Post in an interview. "We started from scratch and didn't have the huge economic base to launch a huge capital campaign as in New York. We didn't have the infrastructure ... of the military and all the wonderful people who served."

Felt's brother Edward called 911 from one of the plane's restrooms before it slammed into the field in Somerset County. He said the memorial to him and the only other victims who had a chance to fight back must rely on grassroots support to raise $15 million by the time the first phase of the memorial is dedicated on Sept. 10.

After that, he fears, the public's interest will move on to other things.

Created through an act of Congress, the United Flight 93 memorial is expected to cost $62 million when all its elements are in place. So far, the National Park Foundation, the charitable arm of the National Park Service, has raised $47 million through federal, state and private contributions.

"We don't have people invested in the area in the same way" as in New York and at the Pentagon, said King Laughlin, who heads Flight 93 fundraising for the NPF, which is in charge of operating the 2,200-acre site in southern Pennsylvania.

The $25 million Pentagon memorial, on two acres near the spot American Flight 77 hit, was fully paid for when it opened in 2008.

When the World Trade Center memorial is dedicated Sept. 12 in the footprint of the fallen twin towers, its $500 million cost will also be covered by generous donations from many of the affected Wall Street companies and even the mayor of New York.

"There has been no problem raising funds in New York. It's the bastion of corporate America. It's their backyard," said NPF President Neil Mulholland. "For them, it's a local investment."

Local support can only go so far in Pennsylvania. About 400 people live in Shanksville, the town where the memorial is located, and fewer than 78,000 in all of Somerset County.

Yet the remote site north of the Pennsylvania Turnpike has drawn 1.6 million visitors to pay their respects to the 40 passengers and crew who died there. Their heroism, captured in desperate phone conversations, thwarted a fourth attack as they sacrificed their own lives to bring the plane down just 18 minutes flying time from Washington.

In recognition of their actions, Congress authorized $14 million for the memorial. So far it has anted up $10.3 million. Whether the memorial will get the other $3.7 million given the gaping size of the federal deficit remains to be seen. It hasn't helped that two influential Pennsylvania politicians who long pushed the project have left the scene.

Rep. John Murtha, the powerful Democratic chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee whose district is near the crash site, died last year. In January, Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter ended his 30-year run as Pennsylvania Senator. While Pennsylvania's congressional delegation remains supportive, Mulholland said, those two were "instrumental" in helping drum up funds for the project.

The state of Pennsylvania has given more generously than Washington. It has already donated $18.5 million. Another $22 million has come in private contributions from 67,000 individuals and corporations, some of the money going to cover operating costs for the already accessible site.

The real problem, fundraisers say, is the lack of major corporate contributions like the kind given in New York and at the Pentagon.

"People have been very supportive but what we hear from companies is that Flight 93 doesn't fall within their guidelines for charitable giving," Laughlin said.

The memorial needs a few big donations to add to the viewing plaza and wall of names that will be dedicated in September. Plans call for a visitors center, a learning center, 40 memorial tree groves of 40 trees each, and the restoration of wetlands in what was a played-out coal mine when Flight 93 crashed into it.

The National Park Service hopes to eventually raise an additional $3 million to build a 93-foot "Tower of Voices" near the park's entrance whose 40 giant wind chines would "serve as an audible reminder of the selfless acts of courage of the passengers and crew."

While the memorial has gotten some corporate matching funds, Mulholland said he hoped others would pony up even bigger donations. He said gifts of $5 million are "reasonable" given what some corporations have paid to get their name on baseball stadiums.

"These 40 people saved thousands of lives and the greatest symbol of our democracy, the Capitol," he said. "It's not just a plane that crashed in a field."

Online donations may be made to the Flight 93 National Memorial.