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Pennsylvania Leaders Gear Up for 9/11 Anniversary

Fri April 29, 2011 - National Edition
Vicki Rock

SOMERSET, Pa. (AP) Although the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America is still months away, local leaders are urging Somerset County residents to keep it in mind.

“There are a lot of indicators that the anniversary will be attracting many more visitors than in prior years,” said G. Henry Cook, CEO of Somerset Trust Co.

Cook is a member of the Flight 93 Federal Advisory Commission. The advisory commission is responsible for providing recommendations to the Interior Department and the National Park Service on the planning, construction and long-term management of the Flight 93 National Memorial.

“Somerset County should try to shine, polish up,” Cook said. “I suggested that 93 days before the weekend of September 10 to 11 that the county commissioners pass a proclamation asking people to fly their flags. It’s close to Flag Day so that would be a perfect launch point.”

Commissioner John Vatavuk agreed.

“Flags are a given,” he said. “Especially those people who are along the routes people will be taking to the memorial — large flags and those small flags along major routes, driveways and yards.”

In addition to flying the American flag, Cook would like people to plant red, white and blue flowers.

“We could have a couple hundred thousand visitors — people from all around the world — here in the months leading up to the anniversary,” he said. “If people could think patriotic themes — and not just houses on the route to the memorial. Somerset County should stand up and be counted. We didn’t ask for Flight 93 to crash here, but we are the caretakers of the site. Show your pride and unity in being American.”

Those groups that make trips to the site each year are notifying local people that they will be bringing even more visitors with them this year.

“Remember, just after that day, flags were predominate in Somerset County, and they should be again,” said Ron Aldom, executive director of the Somerset County Chamber of Commerce. “The county took a real personal feeling of the day. We showed the world the generosity and sympathy of the people of Somerset County. That’s who we are. The whole world will again be focused on Somerset County and Shanksville. The impact will be unfathomable. It’s beyond huge. Anything that draws this number of people in — it’s historic tourism.”

His office and the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau have retained Claire Isgan as a Flight 93 coordinator. She is contacting motels in Somerset and surrounding counties for a room count so the chamber will have an idea where to suggest that people check for accommodations.

“Things are already selling out,” Aldom said. “It will be a gigantic event. Don’t forget, we have two festivals at the same time and leaf season. We have to focus and prepare ourselves for the weekend of the dedication of the memorial. Everywhere, every time, every place — people, especially those in the service industry, must be able to let visitors know what we have to offer. We want to show the world who we are. The world is looking at us. The media will be here like never before, looking for unique stories. Make people feel welcome so they go away with a positive view of Somerset County.”

A chamber steering committee is talking with educators about programs for school children, he said. Customer service people will be invited to an event so they can learn about the memorial.

“We want to make their visit here pleasurable, the ’Wow’ factor, so people walk out feeling how nice the county is and how everyone is so friendly,” Aldom said.

He is hoping that growers have sufficient red, white and blue flowers for the county. Businesses need to be prepared to give people directions not only to the memorial site, but also to other amenities in the county, such as the Great Allegheny Passage, because visitors will ask what else they can do while here.

“We were much sadder on that day, but this is still not a celebration, it is a dedication,” he said. “We are proud to be Americans. We want people to see this is who we are and this was how we responded to the tragedy. We appreciate the sacrifice those who were on Flight 93 gave and we honor their sacrifice.”

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