Former Marine Michael L. Emerson, of Hayward, was upset. He felt that the nation had mostly forgotten about the passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed into a rural field in Western Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001 -- so he decided to do something about it.
In 2002, Emerson began what would become an extensive effort to create the Flight 93 Memorial in Union City, which was dedicated on Dec. 8, 2007.
Located in Sugar Mill Landing Park on the back side of the Union Landing Shopping Center, the memorial pays tribute to the 33 passengers and seven crew members of Flight 93, who fought back against terrorists who hijacked the plane.
The memorial includes 40 granite stones bearing the names of the passengers and crew members along a path that begins at a "Circle of Remembrance." The stones end at a "Circle of Hope," which contains an American flag that Emerson said symbolizes the bravery and courage of the passengers and crew. Emerson and Robert Mowat, the principal of the San Francisco-based landscape-architectural firm Robert Mowat Associates, designed the memorial. Flight 93 had taken off from Newark, N.J., and was headed to San Francisco International Airport.
Emerson said most of the plane's passengers and crew members lived, worked or grew up in the Bay Area, including the pilot, Jason Dahl, who was born and raised in San Jose and graduated from San Jose State University. Emerson said most Americans remember the two planes that crashed into the World Trade Center in New York and the plane that hit the Pentagon. But he said he feels fewer people remember Flight 93 when they think of Sept. 11.
Emerson, who was in the Marines for 10 years and served in the Gulf War in 1991, said he was unhappy when he went to ground zero in New York on July 4, 2002, and "nobody was talking about Flight 93."
He called the passengers and crew members heroes for storming the plane's cockpit after terrorists took over the plane. Emerson said he decided to create a memorial in the Bay Area and, because he lives in Hayward, he first approached Hayward officials about finding a site there, but they weren't interested.
Emerson said he then approached city officials in Union City and they were "very enthusiastic," and helped him find the site in Sugar Mill Landing Park. The cost of building the memorial was about $500,000, but Emerson said city officials were able to find donors for most of the necessary materials and union workers donated their time to construct it.
"Union City is very proud of the memorial and so am I," he said. Emerson, who is a professional trustee who established personal living trusts and irrevocable business trusts, said he takes his family to the memorial on most Sundays and it has had a profound effect on them. "My oldest son told me that after I get old and die he'll take care of it for me," Emerson said.
A day of remembrance ceremony featuring Union City Mayor Mark Green and other dignitaries will be held at the Flight 93 Memorial at Sugar Mill Landing Park at 1 p.m. on Sunday. However, Emerson won't be there himself. Instead, he will travel to the rural field near Shanksville, Pa., where the plane crashed. Emerson is one of 21 members of the steering committee for the national memorial at that site, which will finally be dedicated on Sept. 11.
However, that memorial isn't completed yet and won't be finished for a few more years, he said. It also needs another $10 million in funding. Reflecting on Sept. 11, 2001, Emerson said, "America has really changed, but some of it is for the better."
He said, "There were a lot of negatives, but also a lot of positives because it made the country closer." Emerson said he focused on his family and his job after he left the Marines, but after Sept. 11 "it woke up the patriotism and Americanism in me again."
He said people who want more information about the Union City memorial can visit www.93memorial.com. People who want to contribute to national memorial can visit HonorFlight93.org.
Bay City News