On the Road Again: Our Face of America Journey Continues

By: Tony Mussari
Photographs By: Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright: Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

The human spirit is not defined by the size of the act, but by the size of the heart.
Yakov Smirnoff

Greetings from Shanksville, PA, where our Face of America Journey continues.

For the past seven weeks, Kitch and I have been underground editing the documentary we screened in Shanksville during our annual visit to the final resting place of the heroes of Flight 93, and the place where, in our opinion, we saw first-hand what Yakov Smirnoff’s touching words described so perfectly shortly after September 11, 2001.

In this place of hope and heroes, you discover the pulse of America on its best days. It resides in the hearts of people like Janie Kiehl, Chuck and Jayne Wagner and Sue Strohm. These are people who gave of their time and their talent to tell the Shanksville story to everyone and anyone who visited the Peoples Memorial to the Heroes of Flight 93.

There were others like them… the people who conceptualized and built this unique memorial, and the original members of a group called Flight 93 Ambassadors.

Every year since the day the earth stood still for America, Kitch and I have returned to Shanksville with a group of people to visit the site, interact with the people, host a community dinner and screen an original documentary.

The title of this year’s story is Visiting Shanksville in the Rain. It features a group of Junior ROTC cadets from Sunbury, PA, and their teacher; a veteran and his wife from Dallas, PA; the creator of a Spirit of Kindness club in Lancaster, PA and eight cheerleaders from North Plainfield, New Jersey.

The documentary enables each visitor to speak with heartfelt words about how they were changed by their visit. In our opinion, the stories are powerful and poignant. The stories told by the North Plainfield cheerleaders were compelling and very personal. The documentary ends with a flag presentation by Joanne Galvin, the co-creator of the National 9/11 Remembrance Flag.

The unexpected death of our dear friend George Parks, the Director of the UMass Minuteman Band, one week before the screening motivated us to find a way to incorporate George’s life work into the activities of the visit and screening.

Wherever we went on September 25, 2010, George Parks went with us.

We also tried to incorporate some of the things we have learned from our journey across America during our search for the Face of America on its best days.

It was a tall order to be sure, and one that caused many moments of deep thought and quiet reflection prior to the screening.

In all of our 3:30 p.m. discussions during the editing and post-production phase of the project, we tried to develop a plan to accomplish these goals. It wasn’t easy. Then one afternoon, Kitch suggested that I do something that is second nature to me. “Pretend you are back in your senior seminar room. Make it a learning experience,” she said. Those nine words put everything in focus.

Our plan was set. We would make the visit and the screening an opportunity to teach again, and we would teach in the only way we know how, up front, personal and filled with starred thoughts as George Parks would call them and starred moments of role-playing capitalizing on events as they happened in an effort to inform, inspire and instruct anyone and everyone in our group who would take the time to listen and learn.

Did it work? That’s a fair question. Kitch and I have answers of our own, but we are going to resist the temptation to share them. Instead, we would like you to read a review of our documentary and our visit written by Guedis Cardenas, a 17-year-old senior at North Plainfield High School and member of the Cheerleading team. You will find the review in the Articles Section of our website at this address:


We think Guedis’s review will provide the information you will need to answer the question.

For the moment, I would like to share one of the comments Kitch and I received this morning from one of the North Plainfield cheerleaders who spent the day with us:

Hello Mr. Mussari,

I just wanted to thank you…

What you have done for our school and cheerleaders we will never forget. I hope you continue to talk to the youth and TEACH us all that you can!! You are to me an inspirational hero!! May God always bless and be with you!

Please tell your wonderful wife Mrs. Mussari that I also appreciate all that she has done, both of you will always have a place in my heart!

Love, your student and friend,

Qua-Tayah Robinson

To those who helped us make this year’s visit to Shanksville so special, we say thank you.

To those who helped us during the year to keep moving forward when things were difficult and the bumps on the road appeared to be everywhere, we say thank you.

To our friends who lifted our spirits again and again especially after the automobile accident and the computer nightmares we experienced in July and August, we say thank you.

To the administration, faculty, students, parents and staff at North Plainfield High School who took us in and gave us an opportunity teach again, we say thank you.

Yacov Smirnoff is right, “The human spirit is not defined by the size of the act, but by the size of the heart.”

In North Plainfield, New Jersey, and Shanksville, PA, we found hearts of gold that are as big and as beautiful as the country they call home. We found the spirit of America on its best days.

Until the next time, we hope that all of your stories have happy endings.

Please provide feedback to faceofamericawps@gmail.com