Wednesday, July 4, 2007

When airline pilot Thomas Heidenberger embarked on a 3,800-mile bike ride to honor his wife, who was killed at the Pentagon on September 11, the last thing he expected was that the memorials for which he was also raising funds would be hijacked by politics.

A Pennsylvania landowner is holding out for more money before selling part of his farm where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed, and factions are clashing at the World Trade Center site. The Pentagon memorial is on schedule but needs an additional $13 million for completion.

“There is no place for controversy in these memorials,” Mr. Heidenberger told The Washington Times last week after a Capitol Hill ceremony where he delivered nearly $150,000 he raised during the monthlong trek.

“At the World Trade Center, there are various factions who want top billing, whether it’s going to the firefighters, policemen or firms that lost the most employees,” Mr. Heidenberger said. “That’s where a lot of the politics is: There are so many entities trying to make everyone happy.

“It may be naive on my part, but the 3,000 victims going about their business all died equally that day and should be treated equally.”

Michele Heidenberger was a flight attendant aboard American Airlines Flight 77, which was hijacked by terrorists and flown into the Pentagon.

Mr. Heidenberger and a few other pilots made the 14-state ride last year to raise money for memorials to honor those who died at the Pentagon, at the World Trade Center in New York and in Shanksville, Pa. On each of the 33 days, the men honored each member of the flight crews who were killed by terrorists.

It will cost $27 million to build a permanent memorial to replace a temporary one in Pennsylvania. Federal funding for security at the site expired in February, and Park Service officials are still in talks with owners to purchase the land.

Gov. Edward G. Rendell announced last month that Pennsylvania will provide $120,000 to fund security for one year rather than ask visitors for donations. The World Trade Center memorial will open in 2009 and is expected to cost as much as $1 billion.

“The Airline Ride sent a strong message across the country that the participation of the American people is the engine that will complete America’s memorial,” said Joe Daniels, president of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation.

“Because of Tom Heidenberger and the Airline Riders’ inspiring commitment, we are one step closer to building this national tribute,” Mr. Daniels said.

The memorial at the Pentagon will be the first to open, in September next year, said project manager Jean Barnak.

“Everything is going along really well. It really changes on almost a weekly basis, it is moving that rapidly,” she said.

In addition to the $13 million still required to build it, the Pentagon memorial needs operating funds.

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