I have recently posted comments about the 9/11 memorials located in Shanksville, Pennsylvania and at the World Trade Center, in New York City. So it is only right that I give the Pentagon Memorial is just due.
On that fateful morning of September 11, 2001 I was at my desk just three short blocks from the White House as my colleagues and I followed the unfolding of those tragic events in New York City. And while we and much of America watched in horror as two commercial airliners crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757 carrying 59 passengers and crew, was hijacked by five terrorists after its departure from Washington’s Dulles International Airport and deliberately crashed into the west side of the Pentagon at 9:37am. The plane struck the building at the first-floor level while traveling at 345 mph, and debris and fires penetrated the three outermost rings of the building. The building was severely damaged, and one section at the impact site collapsed. In the aftermath, I joined thousands of others crowding the streets and sidewalks of downtown Washington as we made our way out of the city on foot, the smoke of the burning Pentagon rising into an otherwise cloudless blue sky.
Following the investigation and clean-up of the crash site, the Phoenix Project was initiated to repair and to reoccupy the outermost ring of the rebuilt section by September 11, 2002, the first anniversary of the attack. This goal was bettered by nearly a month, when Pentagon employees returned to the previously destroyed and damaged section on August 15, 2002. This rebuilt section also houses a small indoor memorial cenotaph and chapel situated at the point of impact.
Dedicated on September 11, 2008, it is a lasting tribute to the 184 who died that morning - the passengers of American Flight 77 and the men and women at the Pentagon. Like the Shanksville site dedicated to the memory of the heroic passengers of United Flight 93 who foiled the hijackers goal to crash the plane into a target in Washington, DC, the Pentagon Memorial is administered by the National Park Service and is opened to the public free of charge every day of the week.
The exterior memorial consists of a series of 184 bench-like granite-covered structures, each one overlying a small pool and bearing the name of one of the victims. All are aligned in the direction the plane was traveling when it struck the Pentagon. The names on each memorial bench face east or west. If the victim was on the plane, visitors read the name as they look toward the western sky. If the person was inside the Pentagon, you read the name looking at the building, facing east.
One survivor who lost a loved one in the attack on the Pentagon stressed the importance of such sites to families and friends left behind. They have a place to go other than a burial plot or a vacant stone in a cemetery. We all need a place to go to ponder and reflect on what happened on that bright, sunny September morning.
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