A bond forged in tragedy
Esther Heymann (Submitted photo)
“We inherited a whole new community to care for our loved ones’ final resting place as well as to make sure the events of the day are shared with accuracy,” she said.
Heymann, Baltimore, Md., is the stepmother of Honor Elizabeth Wainio, but always refers to her as her daughter. Wainio, 27, Watchung, N.J., was a district manager for the Discovery Channel stores and was on her way to a business meeting when the flight crashed.
Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller was one of the first local residents to have contact with the families.
“Wally has been instrumental in helping the Families of Flight 93 form a group to make our wishes known for the memorial and empowered us to have a voice,” she said. “That helped me transition from feeling like a victim to empowering me to participate in the memorial process.”
Several times Heymann went to the temporary memorial and just sat and cried. Chuck Wagner, Donna Glessner, Kathie Shafer, all local residents, and others have sat with her to offer support. One snowy day she just couldn’t bring herself to leave the memorial. Ed Kline checked on her, went to sit in his car to get warm because the ambassadors shelter hadn’t arrived yet, and then went back to sit with Heymann.
“He said he would appreciate it if I would come to his house,” she said. “He and his wife, Sharon, wanted to share soup with me. I was embarrassed — I was in such raw pain that I couldn’t go home, I couldn’t leave and I couldn’t let go of this angel. They fed my body, they fed my heart and they fed my soul.”
Many others have been supportive during the years, she said, including Mark Miller from the Pine Grill Restaurant; Jerry Spangler, who is also on the Flight 93 Memorial Task Force, and the staff at Hampton Inn.
Patrick White, Naples, Fla., also feels strongly about people in Somerset County. His cousin, Louis “Joey” Nacke II, 42, New Hope, was a distribution manager of K-B Toys. He was on a business trip when the flight crashed.
“I love the people of Somerset County,” White said. “I am more courteous to complete strangers in Somerset County than any other place on the planet. Whether I know them or not, I have a tremendous respect and admiration for all the people of Somerset County.”
Gordon Felt, Remsen, N.Y., lost his brother, Edward Felt, on the flight. Felt, 41, Matawan, N.J., was a computer engineer for BEA Systems and was on his way to a business meeting. As president of the Families of Flight 93, Gordon Felt speaks at many events in connection with the memorial.
“I always and forever will recognize the local community, they are like family,” Felt said. “They didn’t choose this — it was thrust upon them. They had no option, no choice. This beautiful piece of southwest Pennsylvania became a focal point of the nation. The people in Somerset County have this wonderful ability to absorb the blow. We are forever indebted. Our loved ones are there, under the care of the local community. They are tremendous stewards of the site. It is such a comfort to come back and see familiar faces and to feel welcome. The people handled it with such grace and dignity — it is such a unique, wonderful place.”
Deborah Borza, Foxfire Village, N.C., is the mother of Deora Bodley, 20, who was a student at Santa Clara University. Borza then lived in San Diego, Calif., and her daughter was returning home after visiting friends.
Borza has become acquainted with a lot of people and places now that she wouldn’t have known about, she said.
“It’s amazing how loving and caring the people who live there are,” she said. “We are ever grateful for how they are taking care of the 40 people who fell from the sky into their backyard. How beautifully you care for them and for us.”
Ed Root, Coopersburg, said the relationship that the Families of Flight 93 have with the people of Somerset County is a positive thing that came out of the tragedy. It is one of the twists and turns life takes, he said. His cousin, Lorraine Bay, 58, East Windsor, N.J., was the senior flight attendant on Flight 93.
“People in the entire area have been so gracious and supportive,” Root said. “Nobody is taking advantage of the tragedy and, human nature being what it is, that’s a surprise. The community has embraced it responsibly and haven’t looked to profit. That says a lot about the quality of people who live here. That’s amazing in many respects.”
Many people have worked hard on their behalf, starting with the first responders called to the crash, the ambassadors and volunteers with the National Park Service, he said. Root once spoke about the response of people in Somerset County and someone took offense, saying that no matter where Flight 93 crashed, people would have responded similarly.
“I would like to believe people in other areas would have responded the same, but this is where it happened and this is how people reacted,” Root said. “Somerset County is an American story of volunteerism.”