On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Carole O’Hare's life in Danville changed forever.
O'Hare was expecting her mother to arrive in San Francisco later that day to come and live with her, but she never made it to the airport.
When 79-year-old Hilda Marcin boarded United Airlines Flight 93 at Newark International airport that Tuesday morning, she was looking forward to moving from northern New Jersey, to Danville, to live with O'Hare and her husband Tom.
Marcin and the 39 other passengers and crew on the flight died that morning as their airplane crashed in a field in rural southwestern Pennsylvania near Shanksville.
The passengers had attempted to regain control of the San Francisco-bound flight from hijackers who overtook it after 46 minutes in the air.
Investigators later found that the hijackers' intended target was likely the U.S. Capitol Building, although some have speculated they may have been headed for the White House.
Marcin was the oldest passenger on Flight 93.
She was born in Schwedelback, Germany to a circus family, part of the famous Circus Krone, Europe’s largest circus. Her family moved to the Unites States in 1929, when she was 8 years old, and she grew up on a farm in New York.
Beginning in World War II, the industrious Marcin had three careers before retiring in 2000, at age 79, after 14 years working as a special education aide in Mount Olive Township, NJ.
She moved to Mount Olive following her husband’s death in 1979, to live near her oldest daughter, Elizabeth Kemmerer.
Her mother “loved working with children,” O’Hare says.
After her death, O'Hare learned that her mother never took a sick day and “did so many things she didn’t talk about” beyond her responsibilities to serve the children and families she worked with.
After years of working and living with the sometimes “rough” weather conditions in northern New Jersey, Marcin was convinced by her daughters to move to Danville, for a climate that would be easier on her.
O’Hare, Marcin's youngest daughter, moved to Danville in 1995 after retiring from 20 years in sales and marketing with the Ford Motor Co.
Her mother began visiting every summer in Danville.
O'Hare remembers her mom as “an upbeat person, who got along with people of all ages.” Marcin had the gift of being able to “fit into every situation" and "was very easy to get along with,” she says.
Above all, O’Hare remembers her mom as a great friend.
They were looking forward to living together and doing their favorite things, including trips to Monterey to sit by the ocean.
They also planned to study their family’s history and volunteer at the .
Those plans changed that Tuesday morning.
Instead, O'Hare embarked on a very different family history project with others who shared her grief, to preserve the history of that day, and their loved ones’ part in it.
At first, O’Hare says, she and the other Flight 93 families were “in a fog for quite a while” after the crash. They found it hard to speak about what had happened to those who didn’t share their experience.
Many began to process their grief by joining in a mission to protect the crash site and build a permanent memorial.
O’Hare initially got involved by volunteering to take over a newsletter for the families to help “keep everyone connected and together,” she says.
In 2002, O'Hare and others formed the Families of Flight 93 non-profit organization. O’Hare joined its board and has served on it every year but one since.
In the 10 years since the crash, the organization has negotiated the purchase of 2,200 acres from several land owners on behalf of the National Parks Service for the national memorial and selected the memorial’s design. The group continues to actively raise the necessary funds to complete the memorial.
O’Hare helped select the memorial’s design and says it meets the families’ goals for the project — that the site be protected and taken care of in perpetuity, and provide a place where the families and the public can reflect on and honor the 40 lives lost that day.
After a “long and arduous” process, phase one of the memorial will be dedicated and opened on Sept. 10, kicking off three days of activities and ending with a private service for families on Sept. 12 to inter the unidentified remains from the crash.
A decade after the attacks that changed her life, and that of the whole nation, O’Hare says the milestone anniversary is a “little more difficult” and “anxiety-producing."
Despite that, O’Hare says, the dedication weekend in Shanksville is designed to be an “uplifting and positive” celebration of loved ones.
About 800 family members, representing all 40 families, are expected to attend over the three days, she said.
As the nation observes the anniversary of Sept. 11, O’Hare says she hopes her mother and the others “didn’t totally die in vain,” and that people won’t forget the very important place the events of that painful day have in the nation’s history.
She hopes people will remember the passengers and crew of Flight 93 for their uncommon heroism.
“They were very brave, that they stood up to these guys,” she says of the passengers, who didn’t accept it when the hijackers tried to harm them and their country.
Out of the media spotlight, O'Hare enjoys raising funds for projects that would have appealed to her mother. Her work benefits mostly children and the disabled and is made possible by the donations she continues to receive to a memorial fund she established in her mother’s memory.
She remains connected to her mother by visiting the places that honor Marcin.
Although painful to visit, the site where her mother lost her life is “a really spiritual place,” O'Hare says.
Surrounded by groves of hemlock trees, she finds some measure of peace there.
She is aware of the field's beauty, stark in its emptiness, owing to its history as a reclaimed strip mine, where the only noise is the wind blowing through the trees and the tall grass, she said.
O’Hare also finds peace in the beauty of Danville, remembering summers spent with her mother.
Two trees honor Marcin's memory in the San Ramon Valley — a golden pear tree in San Ramon’s and a weeping willow in Danville’s .
O’Hare’s mother liked to sit and enjoy the pond at Sycamore Valley Park, where mother and daughter would walk their dog and have lunch together.
The weeping willow is planted in direct view from the spot on the rocks where her mother sits with the dog in a favorite photo.
This is the way she likes to remember her mother — in the way she lived — not in the way she died.
To hear more of Carole O’Hare’s thoughts in the wake of Sept. 11, read her essay in Real Simple magazine, or her chapter in Marlo Thomas’ book, The Right Words At the Right Time: Your Turn!, Volume 2.
Interesting fact: two-thirds of the nation’s population lives within a 500-mile radius of the Flight 93 National Memorial.