Posts Tagged ‘Shanksville’

Thinking About America on Memorial Day

Monday, May 30th, 2016

Thinking About America on Memorial Day

Anthony J. Mussari, Sr.
Kitch Loftus-Mussari
The Face of America Project
Copyright 2016

Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose. The Wonder Years

Memorial Day is much more than a 3-day weekend or the unofficial start of summer. It is a very important memory day.DSC02635 It is a day when we step back and remember that the price of freedom is not free. It is a day when we demonstrate our gratitude for the men and women who gave their lives to guarantee that all Americans can hold on to the things they love, the things they are and the things we never want to lose.

During our Face of America journey, we had many magic moments that caused us to think about the essence of America and the contributions of genuine heroes.
This is our attempt to summarize in words and images what Memorial Day means to us.

A Place of National Gratitude


When President Harry Truman spoke these words, he was describing the significance of Arlington National Cemetery:

Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices. President Harry S. Truman

There are 230,000 grave markers at Arlington. More than 400,000 people from the United States and 11 other countries are buried in Arlington National Cemetery. More than 4,000,000 people visit the cemetery every year, and 30 people are buried in the cemetery every day.

A Wall of Heroes

The old Irish saying Death leaves a heartache noMarseilles, Illinois one can heal, love creates a memory no one can steal is a perfect description of the picture we received from Anthony Cutrano, the cofounder of the Middle East Conflict Wall Memorial in Marseilles, Illinois. It is a powerful image that needs no explanation.

Built with voluntary contributions of money and labor, this memorial is unique in that it was built to honor the fallen before the conflict ended.

The Crosses of Lafayette


Maya Angelou’s thoughtful comment How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes! prompted us to include the name of one of our heroes, 2d Lt. Emily Perez, at the “Crosses of Lafayette” memorial in California.

Emily Perez was the first member of West Point’s “Class of 9-11” to die in combat. She was 23-years-old when she lost her life while leading a convoy in Iraq.

Jeff Heaton the founder of the “Crosses of Lafayette” describes this sacred place as “a tidal wave of grief.” Kitch and I found it to be that and so much more. It is a genuine, from the heart celebration of the courage and service of our heroes and she-roes

What is a Hero?

Joseph Campbell gave us a beautiful definition of a heroPeoples Memorial 2005 when he penned these 16 words. A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.

Campbell didn’t know it at the time, but he was articulating what thousands of people experienced when they visited the People’s Memorial to the heroes of Flight 93 in Shanksville, PA.

For 10 years, Shanksville was like a second home to us. The temporary memorial as it was known then was an inspirational place, a peaceful place and a memorable place.
A young student described it perfectly with these unforgettable words. It is a place where Hope is stronger than death.  

40 Angels and 5 Veterans


A nation which does not remember what it was yesterday, does not know what it is today, nor what it is trying to do. We are trying to do a futile thing if we do not know where we came from or what we have been about. Woodrow Wilson

To help visitors better understand what September 11th and Flight 93 was all about Eric Pierson designed the Angels of Freedom. On this Memorial Day, we would like to remember and thank five of those angels who were veterans: William Joseph Cashman, Patrick Joseph Driscoll, Andrew Sonny Garcia, First Officer LeRoy Homer and John Talignani.

America at Its Best

Sometime the perspective of others best defines who we are.Liberty We think that was the case when Nicolas Sarkozy, the 23rd President of the French Republic, shared his definition of America:

What made America great was her ability to transform her own dream into hope for all mankind. America did not tell the millions of men and women who came from every country in the world and who — with their hands, their intelligence and their heart — built the greatest nation in the world: ‘Come, and everything will be given to you.’ She said: Come, and the only limits to what you’ll be able to achieve will be your own courage and your own talent.

What is America?

Many years ago, Harold Ickes, a Pennsylvania native and Secretary of the Interior, asked himself a simple but profound question. What constitutes an American?
His answer reminds us of the essence of America:


Not color nor race nor religion. Not the pedigree of his family nor the place of his birth. Not the coincidence of his citizenship. Not his social status nor his bank account. Not his trade nor his profession. An American is one who loves justice and believes in the dignity of man. An American is one who will fight for his freedom and that of his neighbor. An American is one who will sacrifice property, ease and security in order that he and his children may retain the rights of free men. An American is one in whose heart is engraved the immortal second sentence of the Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

On this very special day, Kitch and I will be thinking about the men and women who were willing to give life to these words with their service and their sacrifice for America. We will never forget you.

On this Memorial Day, the poetic words of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper summarize the things we love, the things we are, the things we never want to lose:

God bless our native land,
Land of the newly free,
Oh may she ever stand
For truth and liberty.

God bless our native land,
Where sleep our kindred dead,
Let peace at thy command
Above their graves be shed.

God help our native land,
Bring surcease to her strife,
And shower from thy hand
A more abundant life.

God bless our native land,
Her homes and children bless,
Oh may she ever stand,
For truth and righteousness.

(The picture of Arlington National Cemetery is part of the Library of Congress Collection.)

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The Shanksville Standard

Friday, September 11th, 2015

The Shanksville Standard: America at its Best

Written by Tony Mussari
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Photographs by Kitch and Tony Mussari
Copyright 2015
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

Memory is the mother of wisdom. Aeschylus

In the Quiet of a Garden

I spent the first part of this beautiful September day in our Angel Garden. In the quiet of the morning hours, I looked at eachAngels of the 40 angels, and I thought about their courage, their honor and their sacrifice. These are the men and women who gave their lives in a successful attempt to prevent United Flight 93 from reaching and destroying the U.S. Capitol building on September 11, 2001.

Throughout the day, my thoughts took me back to Shanksville, a place that is like a second home for Kitch and me.

Over the years, we have designed educational experiences that enabled us to take about 500 people to this sacred place. These visits gave us the opportunity to produce 16 episodes in our What Is America? Series. They provided opportunities to make friends and learn and grow in ways we never thought possible.

In so many ways, September 11 is a day of national reflection. On this the 14th anniversary of the day the earth stood still for America, my thoughts focused on what I like to call the “Shanksville Standard.” It’s a standard comprised of 15 elements that were best articulated by people we talked with at the memorial in Shanksville.

1. Reach Out:

06Collage sm

Our friend Doug Macmillan provided a key element when he shared this thought:

“There will always be struggles… every hardship is an opportunity to reach out and make a difference in the lives of people.”

2. Remain Positive:

Janie Kiehl is the first person we met when we visited Shanksville in 2001. At the time of our meeting she was at the site volunteering as a Flight 93 Ambassador. Her contribution to the Shanksville Standard was best expressed when she spoke these words:

“Understand that life goes on. Despite the tragedies, you have to stay positive.”

3. The Power of Hope:

During one of our visits, we found a ceramic tile inscribed with five of the most beautiful and powerful words I have ever read:
“Hope is stronger than death.”

The young student who designed this work of art left a permanent mark on the hearts of everyone who saw this masterpiece.

4. Have Faith:

Chuck Wagner participated in every phase of the temporary and the permanent Flight 93 Memorial. His faithfulness to the heroes of Flight 93 earned him a special place in the history of the memorial. When I asked him to share his thoughts about his life and his volunteer work, he responded with this biblical citation:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

5. Love and Kindness:

Telk Gohn served as a Flight 93 Ambassador. She and her husband Bob did everything in their power to make people feel welcome at the site. Her beautiful contribution to the Shanksville Standard is deeply rooted in these words:

“Every day should be reserved as a day the Lord has made Thankslivingto do something for someone else and to share his love.”

6. Gratitude:

On a cold and damp afternoon at the site, we encountered a young man who was with a group of wilderness camp students. This teenager was so moved by what he was experiencing, he used a magic marker to express his gratitude. His message was simple:

“I thank all of you.”

I don’t know his name, but I will never forget his act of thanks-living.

7. Transformation and flexibility:

Mary Alice Mankamyer and her husband Clay highlighted the importance of transformation and flexibility. Both of these Flight 93 Ambassadors believe the Shanksville experience changes people forever. They are quick to admit it has changed them as well.

“I think the site has changed peoples’ lives forever.”

8. Peace

One of the most insightful dimensions of the ShanksvillePeace Standard was recorded in a message painted on a guardrail at the temporary memorial:

“The peace you find here is eternal.”

If ever there is one recurring theme in Shanksville, it is peace of mind and peace of spirit.

9. Memories

Joanne Galvin and her husband Steve created the National 9/11 Remembrance Flag. Joanne believes in the power of memories. When I asked her to explain her thought, she offered words that came straight from her heart:

Galvins and Flag

“We have to make sure that the memory of these people stays alive.”

10. Community

Joanne’s son Dan Fitzmaurice identified an important element of the Shanksville Standard.

“The Flight 93 Memorial brings people together.”

11. Heroism

Kelsey Lee visited Shanksville with our group in 2008, 09Title 09Final copy She was deeply moved by the genuineness of the place and the people she met. It inspired her to share this thought:

“It really taught me don’t worship false idols when you have real heroes all around you.”

12. Perspective

During the same trip, another student Laura Lomascolo offered this poignant observation:

“Out of every bad thing that happens later on something awesome comes out of it.”

Her friend Maria Romero used the word perspective several times to explain what she had learned. Visiting Shanksville empowers people to see beyond the obvious.

13. Strength and Perseverance:

Lee Snyder was the first person we interviewed in Shanksville. 07Miseri Collage 07FF copyShe is the author of a scrapbook of memories and mementoes entitled Patriots of Peace. Her contribution to the Shanksville Standard came out of her writing and publishing experience:

“It taught me to be strong and keep moving forward.”

14. Respect

Dana Pienta was a senior at Misericordia University when she visited Shanksville in 2006.

“People respected that site. It is a place of reflection, deep thought and deep prayer. Those 40 people have so many people that love them, respect them and treat them like heroes.”

15. Don’t Take Things for Granted

Val McClatchey is the person who took the picture thatVal Take nothing for granted captured what she called The End of Serenity. This picture and everything that happened on the day it was recorded taught Val to take nothing for granted.

“I no longer take little things for granted like a clear sunny day, because you never know when something is going to come up and cloud over those bright sunny skies.”

Anyone who is looking for a description of what America is on its best day will find it in Shanksville.

Anyone who wants to see the Face of America on its best day need only look at the pictures of the 40 men and women whose heroic acts of courage and selfless service earned them the admiration and respect of people all over our country and the world.

Doug Adam

Anyone who wants to improve the quality of their own life and the lives of the people they interact with every day need only embrace the elements of the Shanksville Standard. That is the good that has evolved from the tragedy and suffering of September 11, 2001, when United Flight 93 ended its journey in a bucolic field in Shanksville, PA.

The way Kitch and I see it, “Memory is the Mother of Wisdom.”

God Bless the heroes of Flight 93.

God Bless all the people who worked for 14 years to make the dream of a permanent memorial become a reality.

God Bless America.

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Shanksville: Where Hope Is Stronger Than Death

Monday, September 10th, 2012

Shanksville, PA: A Place Where Hope Is Stronger Than Death

Written by Tony Mussari
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright 2012
Mussari-Loftus Associates
All Rights Reserved
The Face of America Project

Our worth is always determined by our deeds, not by our good intentions, however noble. Og Mandino

An Anniversary Like No Other

When Kitch and I made our first visit to Shanksville, our lives were changed forever.

The genuineness of the People’s Memorial to the Heroes of Flight 93, the welcoming way of the ambassadors we met, the natural beauty of the setting, the poignant reminders of the courage and determination of the passengers and crew of Flight 93 and the heartfelt tributes left by thousands of visitors made an indelible mark on our souls.

This week I opened the door to my memory room.  Once inside, I spent a good deal of time thinking about what I learned during our visits to the People’s Memorial and the annual screenings of our Changed Forever series in Shanksville. Thousands of images flashed through my mind. The rush of emotions accompanying this kaleidoscope was humbling.

These are some of the images that spoke to my heart.

Memorable Quotes

The seven words written on a guard rail, “The peace you find here is eternal,” reminded me that most of the things we think are important don’t give us peace of mind.

The handcrafted note from a child named Shelly, “Thank you for what you did even though you were scared.”  Embedded in these words is the powerful and healing virtue of gratitude. As one of the ancients said, “It is the queen of all virtues.”

The inscription on a tile that read, “A hero is one who keeps trying.” In this world of bigness, most of us feel a sense of overwhelming smallness, yet the child who wrote this note reminds us that perseverance and perspective will help us make it through the distractions and the nights of darkness into the light of understanding.   

The seven words written on the wall of tributes in 2002 by one of our students Chuck Moran: “A piece of us all stays here.”

Those words set the tone for all of our visits that followed.

Another member of our group, Jeff Soles wrote this note: “One nation under God indivisible thanks.”

Jeff Soles was one of the most impressive and courageous people I have ever met. He was battling cancer when he visited the site. He lost his battle shortly after he wrote this note.  His words had special meaning then, and even more meaning today.

Images of Horror and Hope

The black mushroom cloud hovering over the red barn in Val McClatchy’s picture is the classic image of what happened in Shanksville on September 11, 2001.

In another respect, that black cloud is symbolic of the darkness of animosity, hatred and violence that darkens our world to this day.
Val has paid a very heavy price personally and professionally because of her picture. Yet she remained true to her mission. She wanted to share it with the world no matter what her critics said. Today Val’s picture is one of the icons of that place and that day.

For 10 years, the 40 Angels of Freedom watched over the huge debris field as they paid a personal and poignant tribute to the men and women who fought the first battle in the war against terror. These slate angels created by Eric Pierson and his wife Tammy gave the site a quality of comfort and warmth that is difficult to describe.

Chuck Wagner’s captivating picture of the site at sunset may very well be one of the most beautiful pictures of the symbolism of this sacred place.

Chuck is a thoughtful man.  In his world, faith and family set the agenda. He and his wife Jayne have spent countless hours working at the site as Flight 93 Ambassadors.  Chuck has taken more pictures of the site than anyone I know. This picture records the beauty and majesty of this place of hope and heroes.  

This picture of the MacMillans entering the site records a special moment in the life of a family whose friendship and love for Todd Beamer and his family brought them here to celebrate his life. It speaks to the joy of community. It represents friendship, loyalty and love. For Kitch and me all of these things are embedded deep in the soil in Shanksville.

Everything about the People’s Memorial told visitors they were not alone.  They were a part of the Shanksville family, and, in another respect, they were an essential part of the American family.

Joanne Galvin presenting the National 9/11 flag to the students
from North Plainfield High School is a bridge to the next generation of Shanksville storytellers. It is a powerful reminder that we must never forget what happened to our country on September 11, 2001. It represents the fulfillment of a promise Joanne made to her late husband to continue his mission, and the hope that the next generation will keep this important national symbol flying in every state.

Kitch’s impressionistic picture of the shadows cast by the tributes on the chain link fence records the haunting feeling one gets while visiting the site. There are so many questions, and very few answers.  Why did it happen?  Why were so many innocent lives taken in New York, Washington, DC and here without cause? Why do people hate and kill in the name of God? When will we learn to resolve our differences without murdering innocents?

Questions and Answers

In 2009, Clarence Michael looked at the wall of tributes, and
he asked the quintessential question, “I wonder what I would have done?”  In my heart of hearts, I believe that most of the people who visited the site silently asked themselves this question. They know what they would have liked to do, but few are certain about what they would have done.

Chelsea Blue was a freshman at the North Plainfield High School in New Jersey when she defined heroism with these thoughtful words:

“A hero is someone who does great things and you look up to them, and you try to follow in their footsteps. A hero is not a celebrity. A hero is someone who stands up for what’s right, does what’s right, and never breaks the law or does anything bad. You never know your heroes until they are gone.”

Our chance meeting with the cheerleaders from North
PlainfieldHigh School in New Jersey in 2009 opened the door to opportunities for teaching, learning, growing and service we never thought possible. Shanksville was our second home during the past ten years. North Plainfield has become our new second home. We are deeply grateful for the friends we have made in both communities.

The Gift of Friendship

This picture of Janie Kiehl telling the Shanksville story to a group of students from our last class evokes warm and sentimental feelings of gratitude for the gift of friendship.

Janie Kiehl was the first person Kitch met in Shanksville. We did not know it then, but she would become the person who made all of our screenings happen.

On the day we literally bumped into one another, Janie was the Flight 93 Ambassador on duty at the site. Today, Janie is an admired and cherished friend. Every year she arranged the community dinner for our guests, and she secured the Methodist church for our screening. In more ways than I can describe here, she personifies what friendship is all about.

During our last interview, I asked Janie what she would want people to know about Shanksville. She thought for a moment, and then she replied, “Welcome to small town America.”

Today the People’s Memorial is only a memory of a time when citizens of goodwill joined together to remember and pay tribute to 40 heroes and heroines who defined in courageous and heroic ways what America is on its best and worst day. The design came from their hearts, their beliefs and their experiences.  The construction was the work of their hands. The atmosphere reflected their caring hearts.

The temporary memorial was open, honest, welcoming and oh, so memorable. For those of us who experienced its transformational power, it will live in our hearts forever, and it will give us hope.

As one youngster wrote, “Hope is stronger than death.”

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Four Days in North Plainfield, NJ, Part 3

Friday, December 9th, 2011

Teaching Moments

Written By Tony Mussari
Photographs By Kitch Mussari
Copyright 2011
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project,

Teaching Moments

“Nine-tenths of education is encouragement.” Anatole France

Doc 05: the Challenge

Prior to my visit to the North Plainfield High School for two presentations to the student body, I spent many restless nights conceptualizing the nature, objectives and tone for this unique teaching opportunity.

I wanted to connect with the students. I wanted to engage the students in a series of exercises that would reinvigorate the seeds of optimism and opportunity planted by their teachers. I wanted to inform the students about the material in our documentary about Shanksville and transformation. I wanted to define the word hero in a way they would not forget. I wanted to leave these students with positive memories about themselves and what they learned.

It was a tall order for a person who is old enough to be their grandfather. It was a challenging for someone who had not spoken to an audience of 500 students in a high school setting in more than 30 years.

For three weeks, I had been thinking, reading, planning and mulling over in my mind what I would say, and how I would say it.

To be very honest, I was somewhat apprehensive about the situation I had gotten myself into, but I was determined to make the best of it.

Several things worked to my advantage. I like these students. I admire the educational leaders in their school district. I respect their teachers. I know a good deal about the history and culture of the school district.  My wife and I have been here several times, and I taught small groups of students in their classrooms during our visits. I was a guest speaker at two athletic awards banquets, and I recorded a number of public service trips taken by the cheerleaders and their coach Skip Pulcrano.

When the light of discovery and direction finally went on in my mind, it was simple, understandable and very practical. I would do something my mother always encouraged me to do. I would be myself. I would teach in much the same way I taught in my own classroom, from my heart as well as my head. I would apply the information I learned from a teacher at Kent State University: “Effective teaching is as much about good performance as it is about good information.”

Doc 05: the Content

Now that I had a strategy, I could spend time thinking about content, examples and a theme.

The main event for the assembly was a screening of our documentary Shanksville, PA: A Place of Transformation. The film features 12 Cheerleaders from North Plainfield who visited the people’s memorial in Shanksville in 2010 during our Face of America Journey, three Flight 93 Ambassadors who helped us during our ten year What is America? project in Shanksville, the woman who took the only picture of Flight 93’s ending, Val McClatchey and the woman who created the 9/11 National Remembrance Flag, Joanne Galvin.

The film addresses several questions about America at its best, American heroes and American values. It begins with the North Plainfield High School Concert Band playing Flight of Valor.  It ends with a montage of images summarizing the events of September 11, to the music of Jo Ann Biviano’s I’ll Always Remember.   

This screening provided an excellent opportunity to talk about the person who inspired our Face of America Journey, 2LT Emily Perez, the first Black/Hispanic honors graduate to lose her life in Iraq. I could tie Emily’s Legacy into the life work of another inspirational American, Professor George N. Parks, the teacher who built a national reputation for the Minuteman Marching Band at the University of Massachusetts. His work with students could be linked with another motivational teacher and coach, Herb Brooks and his 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team.

The documentary films Kitch and I produced about Coach Brooks and Professor Parks and the short films we edited about Emily Perez, gave me all the material I needed to tell their stores in what I hoped would be a compelling and interesting way to the students in North Plainfield.

The narratives of each of these American heroes gave me an opportunity to address the question, What is a hero? I could make the significant distinction between a hero and a celebrity. That would open the door to the matter I wanted to emphasize for the students, the impressive examples of industry and service Kitch and I found in North Plainfield, the genuine goodness of this place and the radiant Face of America it projects.

Doc 05: The Moment

The first assembly began sometime after 9 a.m. on a beautiful Monday morning. After introductions by the principal, Jerard Stevenson and the Supervisor of Fine Arts, Tom Mazur, I climbed the steps to the stage. Standing behind the podium, I waited for a few seconds, and then I enthusiastically greeted the students.   

They responded and we were off to a very good start.

After a few moments, I made a costume change.

The year I retired from teaching, Kitch and I worked with twenty students on a documentary project about the 25th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice. It was designed to teach the students life lessons and work values by studying Coach Herb Brooks and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. During my final night as a teacher, the students gave me what they called a “Miracle Shirt.” It is one of my most treasured possessions. I wore it under my academic gown at graduation and one other time during a guest lecturer at St. Mary’s College in Moraga California.

I explained the importance of the shirt, and its symbolism.  Then, I walked to the easel next to the podium. I removed the shirt uncovering a framed picture of a smiling Emily Perez. Just before I put the shirt on, I told the students I was going to wear this shirt for the third time to honor them. The comment resonated with the audience.

For the next few minutes we did some exercises that got the students out of their seats and enabled them to have some fun, learn some lessons about life, success, coping with disappointment, pursuing excellence and accepting themselves.

Whatever I asked the students to do they did with zest and involvement. It was such a joyful experience.  We were working together, learning together, celebrating together and having a good time together.

To be honest, it felt good to be in a classroom with so many students who were enthusiastically participating.

My segue to the film was a short story about Emily Perez: her background; her accomplishments in the classroom, on the athletic field and her impressive record of selfless service to others. I compared her courage and heroism to the actions of the heroes of flight 93. I asked the students to watch the film with their hearts as well as their eyes. I asked them to listen with their ears and their hearts to the things their classmates would say about their hopes, their dreams and their country.

The room grew silent, the lights went out and the film began. I made my way to the back of the auditorium. My heart was pumping in overdrive, and my spirits were about as high as the azure blue sky above. It was one of the best teaching opportunities of my lifetime.
In my heart of hearts, I believed that I connected with the students. I did what I came here to do.   I reinforced my strong belief that this is a place where one finds the Face of America’s tomorrow today.

When the film ended, I had a few moments with the students, and then they left the auditorium to attend their regularly scheduled classes. As they filed out of the room, several students offered encouraging comments about their experience. When I was about to leave, I was greeted by a substitute teacher who, with tears in her eyes, hugged me and expressed her thanks.

Later in the day she wrote these words:

I wanted to thank you once again for all your incredible dedication and work in such a necessary area, that of reaffirming the goodness of our wonderful country and its young people, and that of honoring our fallen.

I cannot begin to describe to you how profound and cathartic an effect your work had upon me. I felt certain that I had composed myself long prior to approaching you, yet upon our handshake I felt this overwhelming wave of emotion come back over me.  Call it gratitude, call it inspiration, respect, etc. but I was very shocked at the depth and range of feelings I experienced. 

I feel your documentary does exactly what any great documentary is supposed to do:  it informs and extols while getting people to think and REACT to what they are learning.  I can’t call it anything less than a spiritual experience. 

It definitely has everything to do with the fact that I am so very proud of my brother, a current civilian private contractor, post-military officer who was presented a bronze medal and now works actively in the wage for peace in counter-terrorism intelligence. 

Please take my words with you as an additional level of affirmation and inspiration that you and your wife so richly deserve, as you have inspired so many. 

God has Blessed You, Dr. Mussari and your lovely wife… may your work never stop moving forward to inspire everyone

On Tuesday morning at 8:30 we returned to the auditorium for another assembly. It was a memorable beginning to a very long day that would culminate in a public screening at 7:00 p.m.

Throughout the day two thoughts reverberated in my mind:

The best teachers teach from the heart, not from the book. Author Unknown

It’s not what is poured into a student that counts, but what is planted. Linda Conway

Thank You, Tom Mazur.

Thank you, Skip Pulcrano.

Thank You, Jerard Stephenson.

Thank You, Marilyn Birnbaum.

Thank you, North Plainfield students for giving an old teacher a new classroom and memories that will last a lifetime.

Tony & Kitch Mussari
The Face of America Project
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15 Hours in Catonsville, Maryland

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

15 Hours in Catonsville, Maryland

By Tony Mussari, Sr.
Copyright 2011
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

We realized that the important thing was not the film itself but that which the film provoked. Fernando Solanas

While driving to Catonsville, Maryland on a beautiful October morning, a story from half a lifetime ago flashed through my mind. It’s the only thing I know about Catonsville.

On May 17, 1968, nine people, including two Catholic priests and a Christian Brother, went to the Selective Service office in Catonsville to destroy draft documents. They filled two wire baskets with stolen documents.  Then, they assembled in a parking lot where they burned the documents to protest the Vietnam War.

Their act of civil disobedience was headline news all over the country. Four months later they went on trial in Baltimore, and the rest as they say is history.

Fast forward 33 years.  It’s October 5, 2011, the anniversary of the trial of the Catonsville 9. On this day, the morning papers are filled with stories of protesters carrying signs heralding “The 99” and their protest against corporate greed.  The first amendment is alive and well in America.

On this day my head and my heart were filled with anticipation. I was going to Catonsville to screen and discuss our documentary, Shanksville, PA: A Place of Transformation. It was a very special occasion, because the invitation came from a former student, now a successful manager and part time teacher, Dr. Richard Ostopowicz.

Rick, as he likes to be called and I have a history. We met at a time and place when we had some teaching moments.  They were not comfortable or easy moments, but they were transformational moments for Rick.  He graciously acknowledges their importance in his education and development. His old teacher relishes in his success.

Someone once told me a teacher must do everything he can to see to it that the student has an opportunity to equal and surpasses the achievements of the teacher. Sometimes it is affirmation, and other times it’s candor. To use the words of Steve Jobs, “at one time in our life all of us will be hit in the head with a brick.” Teachers use softer language, but the consequence is the same.  People with a learning, not a sulking, disposition understand it is one of the best things that can ever happen.  It produces transformations.

When I arrived in Catonsville, I had two experiences that endeared me to the city. I stopped at Edmondson Sunoco.  As I finished filling my Prius, a red truck carrying discarded metal parts pulled into the station. My eyes scanned the scene and settled on a sign attached to the rear window.  It read, “One Day at a time.”

I was curious and intrigued; the why question motivated me to get my digital camera. I approach the driver, and I asked him for permission to take a picture of the sign. 

He obliged.

When I finished, I had a brief conversation with Bill Garry about his sign, and I discovered the heart and soul of a man with a beautiful smile and a wonderful disposition.

“Living life one day at a time is central to the AA program,” he told me.  “I try to live these words every day.”

The expression on Bill’s face spoke volumes about the man and his life. It is a moment I will never forget.

Shortly after I left the Sunoco station, I managed to get lost. I ended up in the parking lot of Pierce Cleaners and Tuxedo. Once inside I met Kyle Davis the owner of Edwards Home and Lawn. He volunteered to help me find my destination. Using his smart phone he found the address. It just happened to be in the shadow of the parking lot two blocks away.

My two person survey of Catonsville left a positive impression of the town and its residents, not scientific to be sure, but heartwarming nonetheless.

As I was getting out of my car in front of Rick’s home, I had another serendipitous moment. A white pickup truck pulled in behind me, and a warm voice spoke words of welcome that sealed the deal. This would be a very good visit.

After dinner with Rick, his wife and their two adorable boys, we were off to the community college for the main event.

The ride to the Catonsville Campus of the Community College of Baltimore was short, and the conversation during the ride was pleasant. When we entered the building, I felt the rush of pre-class anxiety and expectation. I could feel myself going into teacher mode.

Rick is a big man with a very engaging manner. He attended to the technology making sure that everything was in place to optimize the screening for everyone who attended. While he talked with students, I printed a structural outline for the class on a chalkboard next to the entrance to the room. As students took their seats I visited with them to introduce myself, and I suggested that they take a seat in the center of the room where they would get the best view of the documentary.

Rick picked up on this, and he projected a typewritten sign that reinforced my suggestion.

When all of the students were assembled, Rick collected their assignments. He shared some refinements for matters discussed in the previous class, and then he gave me the floor.

After I reviewed the outline for the class, I asked everyone to disconnect from their digital devices, and I repeated words I received earlier in the day in an e-mail from a former student who is a successful corporate executive in Florida. “Push the pause button.” I implored the students to focus their attention on what would happen in their classroom for the next three hours. The students who were in the room turned off their smart phones.

To provide context for the film, I read excerpts from the introduction I presented in Shanksville on September 24. Two key points were emphasized:

Ten years ago, we made a promised to tell the Shanksville story with dignity and class. For 3,650 days, we have remained true to that promise. In doing that, we have been changed in ways we never thought possible.

Today, Kitch and I look at our county through a different lens, and we measure ourselves and the people we meet against the Shanksville standard.

We produced Shanksville, PA: A Place of Transformation, the 22d episode in our What Is America? series, to remember the heroes of Flight 93, to put the spotlight of affirmation on a group of students who speak eloquently and convincingly about their county, this place of hope and healing, and the America dream.

Yesterday we celebrated the heroes of the day the earth stood still for America. Today we come together as a community of people searching for answers to questions that are larger than life. Tonight we will remember the legacy of yesterday to guarantee the promise of tomorrow.

At 8:05 p.m., four hours after I arrived in Catonsville, the lights were dimmed and the screening began.

I selected a seat in the back of the room where I could see the audience as well as the film. I was impressed by the quite attentiveness of the students during the film.  There was but one distraction. A student who arrived late settled in a seat next to mine. Before he sat down, we shook hands and I welcomed him. He was very pleasant and respectful. Unfortunately, he did not hear the request to push the pause button and detach from digital devices. At critical points in the film his eyes were on his smart phone. At one important point before the end of the film, I asked him to put his eyes on the screen. He politely turned off the phone, and he watched the ending.

Shortly after 9 p.m., the credits rolled. Then, the lights came on. Rick gave the students a short break.  When they returned, the discussion began.

Several students liked the positive tone of the documentary.  They liked the comments of the people featured in the film, especially the Cheerleaders from North Plainfield High School in New Jersey. One person called them genuine. Another person said she liked the story and the way it was presented.

From the back of the room, I received a warm greeting. “I’m from Duryea in Northeastern Pennsylvania. I like the film.” This special moment produced a spontaneous response from Rick. “Why does it take a visiting professor from 200 miles away to let me know I am teaching a student who was born and raised where I grew up?”

Another person admitted that she rarely thinks about the significance of 9/11 and Shanksville. The documentary helped her to better understand the need to think more about the events of that day and its consequences for her generation.

One student had very complimentary things to say about the documentary and this genre of film making.  “You told us your intention was to entertain and inform us,” she said. “You did that tonight.”

Another student liked the musical selections in the film.

Not all of the feedback was positive.  One student made a hard landing on a metaphor used by one of the speakers in the film.  Another student who lost a nephew on 9/11 expected more first person stories told by survivors.

The most earthy interpretation came from one of the last people to comment.  He used strong language to express the anger he was feeling. He needed time to think and sort things out. “I won’t be able to tell you what I think until 8:30 tomorrow morning,” he said.

When I told him this was the highest compliment any documentary filmmaker could receive. He pushed himself back in his seat.  His eyes opened wide, and a look of pleasant surprise covered his face.

If truth be told, documentary is all about evoking emotions and deeply felt reactions. If what is on the screen makes someone think, that’s about as good as it gets.

At 10:20 p.m., I asked the students and their teacher, Dr. Rick Ostopowicz, to assemble in the front of the room for a surprise. Then, I presented the National 9/11 Remembrance Flag to them for their school. Watching the smiles of satisfaction on their faces as they posed for a group picture is a frozen frame I will always remember from this visit.

Before we said our good byes, I asked the students to participate in an exercise I learned from my friend Professor George Parks at the University of Massachusetts. It was designed to help them identify their personal best.

The exercise worked, and the evening ended on a very positive note.

I spent the night in Rick’s guest room. Early the next morning we talked for a bit, made some plans for future visits, and then at 7:15 a.m. I headed home with a hundred different memories of the visit, the students, their teacher and the screening carefully stored in the safe deposit box of my soul. 

As I drove north watching the traffic jams as thousands of people headed for Baltimore,  I thought to myself how fortunate I was to be Rick’s teacher and friend, and how good it felt to be a visiting teacher in his classroom.

Before I knew it, I was sitting in traffic on a congested part of Rt.15 in Harrisburg. On this morning of reflection, I didn’t mind the delays. Eventually, I was back on the open road taking in the sun drenched scenery of the rural landscape of the Keystone state, and thinking about the 15 hours I spent in Catonsville.

Then it happened.

I spotted an Amish farmer making his way on a wagon pulled by two horses. I stopped the car on the side of the road, and I took some pictures. For me, the pictures recorded a perfect end to a perfect trip. It helped to put everything in perspective.

In Shanksville, I met people who wanted to preserve the legacy of an important moment in our history.

In North Plainfield, New Jersey, I worked with students who went to Shanksville. While they were there, they discovered what it means to be an American.

In Catonsville, Maryland, the students and I were able to exercise our first amendment rights to assemble, learn and express our opinions without fear of reprisal.

On the farm bordering a blue lined road in Pennsylvania, two Amish men, two Amish children, their spotted dog, two horses and 72 containers of freshly picked carrots, spoke to America at its best.  This compelling image tells us that ours is a country where everyone has a right to be who they are, do what you do, worship the God of their choice and feel the warm spirit of belonging.

Collectively, the images from my 15 hours in Catonsville prove beyond any question the validity of Dr. Stephen Post’s words: “America is the land of the free and the home of the good.”

They give truth to the advice of Steve Jobs, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

I don’t know if I did great work in Catonsville. That’s for someone else to decide, but I do know I love being an old teacher in a new classroom.

Thank you Flight 93 for your valor.

Thank you, Dr. Rick Ostopowicz for the opportunity.

Thank you, students from the Community College of Baltimore for your time and attention.

Thank you, North Plainfield Cheerleaders for your thoughtful stories,

Thank you, America. We are blessed to be your citizens.

(Picture of the Catonsville 9 protest,; picture of the Peoples’ Memorial in Shanksville, Kitch Mussari; picture of the Permament memorial in Shanksville, Frank Pizzani; all other pictures Tony Mussari, Sr.)

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Shanksville: A Place of Transformation

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Final Cut: Teaching the “Shanksville Standard” with Help from Our Friends in North Plainfield, New Jersey

Written by Tony Mussari
Copyright 2011
Mussari Loftus Associates, LTD

Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.  Kevin Arnold The Wonder Years

Shortly after we returned from our final visit and screening in Shanksville, Kitch and I received a very kind note. It began with these words:

I am still in a state of euphoria about the entire trip. Thank you for everything that you did this past weekend.  I know that there was so much work involved, and that you both were exhausted by Sunday, but do know that every single person’s life was affected for the better.  I will never forget it!

What did we do in Shanksville on September 24?  It’s a fair question, and it has a simple answer.

We tried to teach a group of students from North Plainfield, New Jersey, what it means to be an American, what it means to reach up for the best edition of themselves, what it means to celebrate death in order to live a better life, what it takes to navigate the bumps in the road of life, and what it means to emulate what I like to call “the Shanksville Standard.”

Kitch and I met the students from North Plainfield on a bleak, rainy day at the People’s Memorial to the Heroes of Flight 93 in September 2009.  Dressed in their bright cheerleader uniforms, the students were carefully placing American flags on each of the 40 Angels of Freedom.  Instinctively, I knew there was something very special about these students and their thoughtful act of remembrance.

Since that day two years ago, North Plainfield has become like a second home for me. I enjoy working with the students. I admire the administrators, teachers and staff. I find the atmosphere in the high school to be infectious in all the ways that matter. Simply put, good things are happening in North Plainfield.

On this Saturday in September, we began our day with a visit to the permanent memorial. Then, we drove to Shanksville where Sue Strohm and Chuck Wagner, Flight 93 Ambassadors, talked about their experiences at the People’s Memorial to the Heroes of Flight 93.

During the afternoon break, the cheerleaders visited the only privately owned memorial in the Shanksville area.  In the peace and quiet of this renovated chapel, they left 40 American flags to honor the Heroes of Flight 93.

Kitch and I managed to find time to make our way to Ida’s Store. It is a gathering place at the entrance to the town.  While we were sitting on the bench in front of Ida’s, we received a welcoming wave from an Amish woman and her husband as they made their way along Main Street to the farm where they live.  It was a quintessential Shanksville moment.

Late in the afternoon, the cheerleaders returned to this town of 250 people. They joined friends, family, and former students for dinner.  Watching out of the corner of my eye, I saw people talking, laughing, sharing and listening to the sweet sounds of camaraderie.

After dinner, we talked about life, death and everything in between. It was a teaching moment, and an opportunity to help the students tie everything together.

Earlier in the day, I asked the students and their elders to think about the final moments of Flight 93. I asked them to think about what they would do if they were in a similar situation. A few members of our group shared their responses, and one person, Doug MacMillan, made it very clear that he did not know what he would have done. The honesty of his comment touched the heart of everyone in the room.

At the appointed time, we walked to the United Methodist Church for the screening of Shanksville, PA: A Place of Transformation.

Before the lights were dimmed, I shared two letters that celebrated Kitch’s courageous and successful battle with cancer.  Then, I read an article I wrote on September 11, 2011, specifically for the screening. It is titled “Thinking About America.”

It began with these words.

Standing in this place where I have been nine times before, I am filled with emotions I cannot explain.  It‘s a mixture of apprehension, exhilaration, gratitude, melancholy, and wonder.

On this day, we came here to celebrate death to learn about life. We came here to honor heroes who knew they were going to die. Heroes who refused to give up and give in. Heroes who used their final minutes of life to protect sacred national symbols and hundreds of people who would have died without their intervention.

The memory of their heroic revolt evokes admiration, affection and amazement.  It also evokes anger, dismay and a kind of emptiness that eats away at my soul.  It produces questions without answers and anguish without resolution.

“Thinking About America” ends with a challenge for the students from North Plainfield and Americans everywhere:

Ten years ago, we made a promise to tell the Shanksville story with dignity and class. For 3,650 days, we have remained true to that promise. In doing that, we have been changed in ways we never thought possible.

Today, Kitch and I look at our county through a different lens, and we measure ourselves and the people we meet against the “Shanksville Standard.”

Do we have the courage to do the right thing?

Do we have the will to do the honorable thing?

Do we have the fortitude to do the difficult thing with grace?

Do we have the insight necessary to understand that service to others is more rewarding than service to self?

Do we have the strength to pick ourselves up when we fall, and move forward with hope?

Do we have the wisdom to remember the everyday heroes of Flight 93?

Will we live a life of “loving kindness?”

These are difficult questions.  These are transformational questions.  The answers to these questions are deeply rooted in the heart, not the mind.

These are questions that have a high priority in the North Plainfield School District. Shanksville PA: A Place of Transformation documents this in the words spoken by the students about their country. More importantly, it records it in the actions of the cheerleaders who are taught the significance of service to others.

With the familiar music of the opening scene of the documentary resonating off the walls of the church, I walked to the back of the room. In my mind, the words of the father of Greek tragedy summarized what the students were about to see:

“Memory is the mother of all wisdom.”  Aeschylus

Digital photographs provided by Frank Pizzani, Skip Pulcrano, Chuck Wagner.

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An Unforgettable Weekend in Shanksville

Monday, September 26th, 2011

A Review of our Visit to Shanksville

Written by Pat Richel

When my friend Pat agreed to accompany me on the trip this past weekend, I worried that it would be a long three days for her.  I had often talked to her about your work, Kitch’s ordeal, and Skip’s cheerleaders when we were on the beach, but I still wondered.

From the first time we all met at the restaurant, Pat and I were made to feel so much a part of the group.  Everyone who was there that weekend had an important connection to Shanksville.  (Except us, of course.)  Pat and I were also constantly amazed at everyone’s role in the total picture.  We quizzed everyone and by the end of the weekend, knew so much about all.

I was deeply involved with the Twin Towers, because I knew someone who died, and also knew some survivors.  My nephew was late going to work that day, and would have been a casualty if he hadn’t overslept.  Our next door neighbor worked in a bank next to the towers.  I was working at Montclair State University at the time and was on my way to teach a 1:00 P.M. class that day.  Montclair is built on a mountain and the road on the way to the college gives a clear picture of the New York skyline.  When I saw the towers and the smoke, I was sickened.  Needless to say, I canceled classed when I arrived.

And so, though I was extremely saddened about what happened at Shanksville, the Twin Towers affected me more.  That certainly changed this weekend!  I learned so much and appreciate what everyone has done to keep the memory of those heroes alive.  Each moment of the weekend was enlightening.  Even if it made us cry.  It certainly transformed two chubby Pats from New Jersey.

After speaking to the cheerleaders, I noticed that they were transfixed with all that went on, and they too, will never be the same.  In my heart, I predict great things for all of them.  They will make their mark on this world and everyone will benefit from it.  I only wish that all students could have the opportunity to have a dose of the Mussaris and develop the "Shanksville Standard".  How much better would our lives be?

My only hope is to make the documentary accessible.  I know that it is not your purpose to commercialize it, but students and adults need to see it.  I can’t wait to see it again. 

My last thought is that I wish I had seen the old memorial with the angels, the flags, and the mementos.  The new permanent memorial is cold and almost forbidding.  Maybe that is just my opinion.  Hopefully the wonderful, volunteer Flight 93 Ambassadors will make peoples’ visits more meaningful.  The ones I met are prizes!

Thank you again for an unforgettable weekend.  Pat and I are still talking about it and will continue for a long time to come.

(Pat Richel is a school nurse, a teacher and a breast cancer survivor. She Lives in New Jersey.)

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The Secret to Our Remarkable Weekend in Shanksville

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

Visiting Shanksville: The Secret to Our Remarkable Weekend

Written by Tony Mussari
Copyright 2011
Mussari Loftus Associates, LTD

The eternal quest of the individual human being is to shatter his loneliness.  Norman Cousins

I’ve been thinking a lot about our recent visit and screening in Shanksville. It was a remarkable experience on so many levels, and I think I know the reason why.

The places we visited were special, but that alone does not explain it.

The weather was reasonable decent, but that was to be expected.

The cost was not prohibitive, but that has always been the case.

So what caused people to write such celebratory and kind words about the weekend?  Words like these:

We could not stop talking about our experience this weekend. As always it was touching, respectful and beautiful. 

It was an amazing weekend in Shanksville.  This is your finest video.  What a fitting way to end a ten year project.

My sister told me about her wonderful experience she had with you and your wife over this past weekend and I’m so happy that it was a huge success.

We want to thank you for an unforgettable weekend. It meant the world to us being there with you both.

I believe in my heart that people enjoyed this weekend because they felt a genuine sense of belonging and a genuine sense of community.

I experienced those feelings at our dinner for 14 at the Pine Grill.  Just look at the smiles on the faces of the people, most of whom had just driven over four hours to get to Somerset, PA.

The feeling of community was palpable in the dining room of the Comfort Inn, in little gatherings at the permanent memorial, at the Methodist Church in the parking lot before Flight 93 Ambassadors Sue Strohm and Chuck Wagner made their presentation.

Outside the entrance to the Lutheran Church Recreation Hall before our community dinner people were laughing and smiling as they carried food into the building while others milled around to talk with one another and wonder if Bill Gaydos would ever arrive with his three blond friends.

So what was this sense of community that made us forget about all the things that bother us every day?

I think it can be best defined by identifying what was absent during this priceless weekend.

There was no anger, no alienation, no busyness, no contention, no confrontation, no hostility, no indifference, no loneliness.

What we had was a sense of equanimity, a sense of family, a sense of neighborliness, a sense of sharing.

There was no digital obsession.  There was genuine face to face and heart to heart communication. We were talking, learning, sharing, caring and spending time together.

We had common purpose and meaning tied into a desire to remember and a determination to think about, talk about, and show respect for people other than ourselves.

We were living and affirming what my friend George Parks said life is all about. Pariicipation. Someone wasn’t doing it for us. We weren’t watching it. We were doing it, living it and loving it ourselves.

We were giving testimony to the poetic words of Maya Angelou:

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

The snapshots we recorded document it.  The pleasant memories we carried away with us are embedded on our souls, and these memories prove that we knew what to do with our time and with one another.

We were not alone together. There were no distractions, no diversions, no digital solitaire.  

We were together, engaged and involved in something bigger than ourselves and that made all the difference.

We came to Shanksville on this September weekend to honor the heroes of flight 93. We came to this small town to remember with respect the men and women who gave their lives for our country after Spetember 11, 2001. We came to watch an artistic depiction of what America is at its best, and without knowing it or straining to do it, we built a community, a neighborhood, a family that reflects the best America has to offer.

To paraphrase the words of Dorothy Day, we brought the long loneliness of our lives to Shanksville, and like the men and women we came to honor, we discovered the answer to everything in life and death is community.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

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I’ll Always Remember

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

A Poignant Face of America Moment

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Flight of Valor: a Poignant Face of America Moment in North Plainfield, New Jersey

By Tony Mussari
Copyright 2011
The Face of America Project
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

Music is the medicine of the breaking heart. Leigh Hunt

North Plainfield High School

Some of the most priceless memories of our Face of America journey are deeply rooted in the high school in North Plainfield, New Jersey. This is the place where Kitch and I first discovered the Face of America’s tomorrow today.  It’s the place where the seeds of our project germinated. It’s a place where good things are happening for students, teachers, parents and administrators who reap the benefits of diversity.

In many ways, going to North Plainfield is like going home. It happened again this week when I visited the high school to interview students for a documentary we will screen in Shanksville later this year.

The visit was suggested by Tom Mazur, Supervisor of Fine, Practical and Performing Arts. Tom invited me to attend the spring concert. When I was told the concert band under the direction of Heather Fencik would play Flight of Valor, James Swearingen’s inspirational composition dedicated to the Heroes of Flight 93, I requested permission to record the event.

As has always been the case, everyone at the high school who was involved in arranging my visit did what had to be done to create a welcoming environment. Skip Pulcrano, the coach of the North Plainfield cheerleaders, went out of his way to make this location shoot a success.

Prior to the concert I interviewed four students and one teacher from North Plainfield, and a mother and her daughter from Point Pleasant, New Jersey.

Yamna Anwar is one of North Plainfield’s most accomplished students. Recently she distinguished herself with a perfect score on the state mandated test for juniors. During our conversation she shared her thoughts about America and her dream of becoming a medical doctor.

Maximiliano Torres is a member of the wrestling team, and the owner of a golden voice.  Kitch and I were taken by his rendition of God Bless America, prior to our screening of Visiting Shanksville in the Rain. During our conversation he spoke passionately about his love for America.

Guedis Cardenas is president of the senior class, and a member of the tennis team. He is a cheerleader who commands the respect of everyone on the squad. Sitting in front of the Healing Field Flag of Honor, he talked about the things he learned during his visit to Shanksville. Three days after our interview Guedis was selected as the outstanding male cheerleader in the country at a national competition in North Carolina.

Amber Henderson and her fifth grade teacher, Megan Hendrickson, shared their story of rescue, hope, inspiration and friendship.

Anna Norcia and her mother, Marie, talked about their visits to Shanksville with Skip Pulcrano when he was a teacher in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. That is where this marvelous public service tradition started. All these years later, it has been developed to its highest potential in North Plainfield.

As you can well imagine, these wonderful and uplifting stories added a special dimension to our Face of America project.

The Back Story

A few moments before the concert began, I read an interesting comment in the program. It told everyone in attendance that the composer of Flight of Valor drew upon a well-known hymn, It Is Well with My Soul. That piqued my curiosity, and I made a mental note to check out the back story to the music.

When the appointed moment arrived for the performance, I was located high above the stage in a control room where I could get a good shot of the concert band and audio to match.

The students performed Flight of Valor with dignity and class. It had all of the emotion, intensity and inspiration associated with this very special composition. Without question, Flight of Valor was the high point of the concert.

You can watch our production of Flight of Valor at this address:

On my way home, I thought about the back story, and as soon as I reached a computer I began my search for information about It Is Well with My Soul.  What I discovered is heart wrenching and inspirational.

Horatio G. Spafford, Jr., was a prominent Chicago lawyer. He and his wife, Anna, were the parents of four girls: Annie, Maggie, Bessie and Tanetta. In 1870, their only son was killed by Scarlett Fever.  In 1871, they lost all of their real estate properties in the Chicago fire. In 1873, they lost their four daughters in an accident at sea.

Spafford learned about the tragedy in a telegram from his wife.  It read” “Saved alone. What Shall I do?”

After the telegram arrived, Spafford left for England to join his wife.  He wrote the lyrics for It Is Well with My Soul shortly after the ship that was taking him to England passed the spot where the accident occurred. The opening stanza summarizes his feelings and speaks to his great faith:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Many believe It Is Well with My Soul is one of the most comforting Christian hymns. It speaks to faith and hope in the face of unimaginable pain and sorrow. It is the perfect model for Flight of Valor which celebrates the courage, determination, heroism and patriotism of the passengers and crew of United Flight 93. On May 17, the North Plainfield Concert Band captured all of the emotions expressed in Spafford’s hymn and Swearingen’s composition. It was an extraordinary Face of America moment and a proud memory for everyone in North Plainfield, New Jersey.

On this Memorial Day weekend it is well for our soul to remember all those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001, and the 1,007,448 men and women who have given their lives for our country since 1775. They are the face of American freedom. Their courage, honor, sacrifice and valor must never be forgotten. They paid the price for our freedom, and we are in their debt.

Tony & Kitch Mussari




Flight of Valor

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011