- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 14, 2005

It is unbuilt, but already under fire. The proposed memorial to United Flight 93 has a chorus of critics, irked by a single design element that ultimately might be reconfigured.

The “Crescent of Embrace,” a double arc of maple trees that will turn red in the fall, has drawn the ire of some, who say it will resemble the red crescent — a symbol of Islam dear to the hearts of the September 11 hijackers on the flight that crashed into a Pennsylvania field.

The Rev. Ron McRae, pastor of the Bible Anabaptist Church near Pittsburgh and founder of the Street Preachers Fellowship, called the design “a memorial to terrorists.” He vows to file a lawsuit and stage a public protest.

The families of the 40 passengers and crew disagree, but the Los Angeles-based architect said yesterday that he would work to satisfy critics.

“This is an unfortunate distraction from the mission of the memorial,” said Hamilton Peterson, who lost his father and stepmother on the flight and is president of the District-based Families of Flight 93.

“We’ve vetted this design and thought it through. In reality, the red crescent is a symbol of a benevolent humanitarian mission founded in World War I. Now, wackos with idle time and energy are trying to divert our goal,” Mr. Peterson said.

But designer Paul Murdoch said he is “somewhat optimistic” that the spirit of the design could be maintained.

“It’s a disappointment there is a misinterpretation and a simplistic distortion of this, but if that is a public concern, than that is something we will look to resolve in a way that keeps the essential qualities,” Mr. Murdoch, 48, told the Associated Press.

Mr. McRae’s isolated comments garnered considerable coverage in the Pennsylvania press and resonated on Web sites such as Free Republic, Power Line and Constitutional Conservative.

Columnists weighed in this week. Michelle Malkin called the crescent design a “monumental surrender” and “boneheaded,” while Mark Steyn observed that Flight 93 had been “re-hijacked,” and in the thrall of “the cultural elite.”

In a letter sent Tuesday to the National Park Service, Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, called on the agency to reject the design as “a flash point for controversy and criticism.”

“The crescent in the design does not imply or depict religious iconography. The crescent follows the actual ridge line of the crash site and is intended to honor the heroes of Flight 93 and comfort their families,” said Joanna Hanley, superintendent of the memorial site, which will be managed by the National Park Service.

The design for the 2,000-acre memorial also includes a chapel and a wall dedicated to Flight 93.

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