The tiny physician lounge on the first floor of a small community hospital in central New Jersey featured a few comfortable chairs, a conference table, cubicles offering computer access, and a large television set mounted on the back wall. The room, located across the hall from my public relations office, required a key code to enter, and only those who had earned their medical degree were granted access.
However, on that morning - that fateful morning - the room played host to a sea of humanity who did not carry the title of "doctor". With the normally locked door unceremoniously propped open, the lounge filled up with nurses, therapists, accountants, administrators, cafeteria workers, housekeepers, and me....all gazing in horror at the incomprehensible images on the television screen.
As the sickening, slow motion video of a jumbo jet deliberately slamming into the World Trade Center replayed over and over, the ticker crawl at the bottom of the screen informed the world that a plane had crashed in Somerset County.
I lived in Somerset County!
Did the plane crash in my neighborhood? Near my home? Were my husband Bob and four-year old daughter Melissa in harm's way?
Before I had time to even process these thoughts, I read the ticker more closely.
Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Not Somerset County, New Jersey.
My relief, however, was short-lived. People died in that plane crash. In Washington, DC, the Pentagon erupted in flames. In New York City, the World Trade Center came tumbling down.
We were at war.
And the world would never be the same.
Nearly 15 years later, Bob and I turned our car off the highway and wound our way through the rolling hills of the rural, central Pennsylvania landscape enroute to the town of Shanksville, population 245.
The countryside seemed unchanged. Stuck in time.
It was not difficult to imagine this remote part of the world as it had been 15 years earlier.
As it had been on a glorious September morning.
As it had been before these rolling hills became a final resting place for 40 heroes.
A permanent memorial now sits atop one of these rolling hills, bearing the names of ordinary men and women who decided to go out fighting, on their own terms, in their own way. Their acts of bravery forced the terrorists to bring the plane down in a lonely, deserted field in central Pennsylvania, rather than our nation's capital. The ultimate sacrifice of 40 unsuspecting heroes undoubtedly spared countless lives.
Bob and I walked silently through the Visitor's Center, where an exhibit gave a detailed account of the day's events. Thanks to evidence recovered from the passengers' calls to home as well as the black box recorder, officials were able to conclude, with near certainty, what had happened during the final few moments of Flight 93.
Fifteen years later, people come. Every day they come. They come from near and far. Hundreds of people winding their way through the small farming communities of Somerset County, PA.
They come to listen. To learn. To understand.
They come to gaze at a peaceful field once ablaze with an act of war.
They come to pay their respect.
For on September 11, 2001, the beautiful, rolling hills of Somerset County, PA, became hallowed ground.