SHANKSVILLE – The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack against the United States is Patrick Noonan’s earliest memory.

On Friday, he visited Flight 93 National Memorial to honor the 40 passengers and crew members who died when their hijacked plane crashed into what was then an abandoned surface mine in rural Somerset County.

Noonan, now 24, was among the approximately 200 volunteers who participated in the annual Plant a Tree at Flight 93.

“As someone whose first memory was 9/11, it pulls the strings of the heart because this is such a special place,” Noonan, a Pittsburgh resident, said.

“And to be doing this here, honestly, you can’t ask for a better thing than this. To honor what happened here as well as helping out Mother Nature, it’s absolutely wonderful.”

About 7,000 native species seedlings were planted over 10 acres during the event that was held during the week of Earth Day.

“The memorial itself was on a very scarred landscape from being on a surface mine,” said Katherine Hostetler, Flight 93 National Memorial’s public information officer.

“Reforestation is also part of making it a living memorial. So, by planting these trees, we’re inspiring future generations and helping to tell the story of what the passengers and crew members did here on Sept. 11, 2001. But also, there are so many passengers that had a tie to the environment as well. There was a passenger from Hawaii that planted a lot of trees. Just sharing their stories as well is part of the story here.

Carolyn Nicholas, a volunteer from Pittsburgh, added: “I think it’s important for us to restore it back to what it was like before everything happened.”

Plant a Tree at Flight 93 was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s effort was scaled back to one day, as opposed to the usual 500 volunteers planting over two days.

The project started in 2012 with the goal of planting 150,000 trees, a total that is expected to be reached in 2022.

“It is exciting,” Friends of Flight 93 National Memorial President Donna Gibson said.

“I’ve been here from the first Plant a Tree, moved here that year from Pittsburgh. I was at my desk and I got an invitation to come and plant trees. I had been to the memorial on several occasions. But planting trees that day, I felt like I was part of something that was so big. Finding out that it was part of the original memorial design and it was going to be a 10-year project excited me.”

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5056. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.

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