9/11 Flight Crews Finally Honored

Shirley Hall, vice president of the memorial foundation, also an American Airlines flight attendant, explained the sculpture's symbolism during the memorial's July 4, 2008, dedication ceremony. In part, she said:

The captain stands at the highest point, his copilot to his right, as it is on the airplane. The captain is charged with the responsibility of protecting passengers, fellow crewmembers, and the aircraft. The first officer is alert, his safety manual in hand, pointing to the western horizon, the intended destination of all four flights. Back-to-back placement of the flight attendants to the cockpit crew shows the teamwork of all flight crews, especially now -- post 9/11.

The young girl with her teddy bear represents the traveling public. She is the family on their big vacation, the newlyweds on honeymoon, the grandmother on her very first flight, the weary businessman, and unfortunately now ... she is the soldier off to war.

The role best known by the general flying public is portrayed by the male flight attendant. He drapes a blanket around the small child. His duties show a commitment to passenger care and service. Indicative of her role as a safety professional, the female flight attendant stands in the protected position: her hand held in the international sign for "stop," shielding her passenger from harm.

It makes perfect sense that this memorial would not be an abstract work of art with its subject matter intentionally obscured, if not impossible to discern. Instead, it is a classical figurative rendering of the human beings who lived and died on that hellish day, people whose lives and deeds represent those essential virtues, which cannot be vanquished by force of steel and fire. This is a memorial composed of poignant images denoting courage, dedication, and commitment, virtues that our forefathers and foremothers possessed more than two hundred thirty years ago at the birth of the nation, and which are indispensable to the effort of preserving our way of life generations into the future.

It is significant to me that this million-dollar memorial was entirely a grassroots effort, funded and built through the dollars of ordinary people, without the support of national endowments, political affiliations, or government money.

As we go forward in this long war against a patient, determined enemy, it is comforting to know that Americans still know how to get things done when they are focused and determined, that they understand the importance of symbols which communicate our core values, and which bind us together from one generation to the next.