9/11 Memorial Pennsylvania
Former U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (L) visits the Flight 93 National Memorial with Patrick White, a representative of victim's families, during ceremonies commemorating the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, September 10, 2012. Reuters

The National Park Foundation, the official charity arm of America’s national parks, announced this week ahead of the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that it had secured $40 million to design and build the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Penn., the only national park dedicated to the events of Sept. 11, 2001. But while the National Park Service held a groundbreaking ceremony for the long-delayed project on Tuesday, the Flight Attendant Union Coalition gathered on Capitol Hill to request that members of Congress make voluntary personal contributions to close a $1.5 million funding gap.

“Twelve years ago, 25 Flight Attendants took action as first responders in a war we didn’t know we were fighting,” the Coalition said Tuesday. “These heroes were among the first to relay the intelligence that alerted our country and our flying partners on Flight 93, who in turn sacrificed their own lives to save countless others on the ground … We promise to never forget the events of that day and to ensure they never happen again.”

United Flight 93 was en route to San Francisco from Newark, N.J., when it was hijacked just above Cleveland and turned around toward Washington, D.C. The aircraft crash-landed in a former coal mining area of Pennsylvania, and all 40 passengers and crew onboard were credited with thwarting a second terrorist attack on the nation’s capital.

Flight attendants distributed a letter to members of the U.S. Congress this week asking them to dig into their own pockets to cover the remaining costs for the site, which officially opened to the public on the ninth anniversary of the terrorists attacks, but has been completely overwhelmed by a high volume of visitors. The National Park Foundation said new facilities, which had their groundbreaking Tuesday, would dramatically improve the overall quality of the visitor experience by providing the tools necessary for a complete understanding of the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

“Like all of America’s national parks, the Flight 93 National Memorial honors and preserves our country’s rich history,” explained Neil Mulholland, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation. “As the charitable partner of the National Park Service, the National Park Foundation has been proud to lead the private fundraising efforts to establish and build the Memorial, ensuring its place in American history.”

Mulholland said that it was only through the support and generosity of the thousands of individuals that the organization was able to protect and honor the Flight 93 National Memorial. Through its Flight 93 National Memorial Capital Campaign, the Foundation raised $40 million in private sector support from 110,000 individuals and corporate donors.

These funds have made possible the construction of a Memorial Plaza, 40 Memorial Groves, the Wall of Names, Field of Honor and major reforestation of the landscape. Construction teams will work through 2015 to create additional facilities like a visitor center, learning center, exhibition space and flight path memorial walls.

“Today’s announcement that funding for the Flight 93 Memorial is complete is a testament to the incredible work and dedication of the families [of the victims],” stated Senator Bob Casey, D-Pa. “This memorial cannot fully encompass the extraordinary sacrifice these families have made, but I’m confident that its completion will show one small measure of our gratitude towards them and the heroes of Flight 93.”

Though the National Park Foundation has completed its capital campaign, there is still much more money needed to fund the memorial’s operation costs and a planned 93-foot Tower of Voices containing a wind chime for each of the victims. Philanthropic organization Friends of Flight 93 National Memorial is now tasked with finding this money, which will not only keep the park open, but make it a viable site of learning.

President George W. Bush signed into law the Flight 93 National Memorial Act on Sept. 24, 2002, which created a new national park unit to commemorate the passengers and crew who lost their lives thwarting a planned terrorist attack on Washington, D.C. Like the National September 11 Memorial Museum in Lower Manhattan, the Flight 93 memorial has received no federal funds for its operating budget.