Memorial Tells The Story of The Pentagon On 9/11
June 22, 2008
A few days ago, I wrote a book review on the book Firefight: Inside The Battle To Save The Pentagon on 9/11. The book told the account of that day from the perspective of the Firefighters, Police Officers, EMS personnel and Military Members who were there that day. I’d like to now tell you all about a memorial to honor the fallen at the Pentagon, which will be dedicated on the seventh anniversary of 9/11.
The memorial honoring the victims of 9/11 at the Pentagon is nearing completion and will soon be dedicated and open to the public on September 11, 2008 … 7 years following the events that took 184 lives that fateful day. Jim Laychak, the brother of victim Dave Laychak, is the president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund and is finally seeing his dream and hard work turned into reality. Laychak has been involved in almost all facets of the project’s planning. There is only one thing remaining, that he has not done. That is to visit the bench that is dedicated to his brother, who was a passenger on the airplane that was flown into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.
“I want to hold off and go and see his bench and touch his bench that day,” said Laychak. “I wanted to save something special for me personally on September 11th when we dedicate the memorial, so I can spend some time with it then.”
Mr. Laychak is only one of thousands of people looking forward to the dedication of the memorial. After spending more than 5 years of raising funds, the organizers have almost reached their goal. The $32 million project, was financed entirely by private donations and is moving into it’s final stages. The park itself cost $22 million to build with another $10 million in endowment funds to ensure that the memorial site is always properly maintained. Donations for the project have come in from many diverse sources. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made a donation, as well as NBA star and Navy Veteran David Robinson and the government of Taiwan
“This is hallowed ground for a lot of the family members, and the essence of this place will be about them, those that we lost,” Laychak said.
The park will consist of 184 cantilevered stainless steel benches, each which is built over a small pool of lighted water. The benches are inlaid with black and gold granite that was mined in Spain and cut in Canada. There is a perimeter wall around the park built of the same Spanish Granite. On the end of each bench, will be engraved the name of one of the 184 people who lost their lives onboard flight 77 or inside the Pentagon that day. The benches are arranged by the age of each victim. The bench honoring the youngest victim, 3 year old Dana Falkenberg will be located in the far southeast corner of the park and the bench honoring the oldest victim, 71 year old John Yamnicky will be located in the northwest corner. The benches representing the 59 victims aboard Flight 77 are arranged so that anyone reading the names at the end of the bench, will face the sky where the plane came from. The 125 benches representing the victims who died inside the Pentagon will face the opposite direction, so that a person reading the names will be able to look up and see the south façade of the Pentagon, the place the struck the building that day.
While the park and it’s location, brings a sense of peace and reflection to the families of the victims, for the Pentagon and the officers of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, it’s location has required some changes in the security processes around the building. Since September 11, 2001, security has been tight. Much effort has been put into even further limiting public access to the building. It has been surrounded by barricades, an elaborate security system and signs posted everywhere, prohibiting the taking of photographs of the building. Traffic congestion makes access extremely difficult during commuter hours as well. Visitors to the memorial park won’t be able to park near the site. Instead visitors will have to park at Pentagon City and walk through a pedestrian tunnel that runs beneath Interstate 395, to reach the site. A walk that will talk them about 5-10 minutes. There will however be some spaces reserved in the Pentagon’s south parking lot for handicapped parking.
Because the memorial park is located next to the Pentagon, not only will the visitors to the park be able to think and contemplate the events that unfolded there on September 11, 2001, but being there might invite them to think about the Pentagon, the Department of Defense and the men and women who work inside. The site should offer a much different vantage point on the attack, as well as what occurs behind the walls of the Pentagon on a daily basis.
Because this will be the first memorial honoring the victims of September 11 to be opened, it is expected that thousands of people will flock to the area. Many are expected to come at night, as it is designed to offer visitors an entirely different experience after sundown, when visitors will be able to see the bottoms of the benches reflected in the pools of lighted water underneath, producing a shimmering glow. The security challenge comes, to create a visible enforcement presence that will discourage vandalism and threats, while not making visitors to the site uncomfortable with an overwhelming police presence. The longstanding policy has been that photographs cannot be taken of the Pentagon. A compromise has been reached that will allow people to take photographs of the site, even if they want pictures of the building from within the memorial site.
“People will want to take pictures of the c rash site, obviously, and we’re going to allow that,” said PFPA Director Steven E. Calvery.
There will be guidelines and restrictions that visitors will have to follow. Signs outside the memorial and along the walkway to it’s entrance, will warn visitors that they can photograph the building from the memorial only. Security personnel will reserve the right to confiscate the cameras of violators of this guideline. Visitors will have no access to the Pentagon itself from the memorial. The wall will separate it from the Pentagon and the roadway that runs alongside the building. Guard booths will be located at each end of the wall. State of the art surveillance equipment will also be in place. Security plans and procedures may change after the memorial is open to the public and they get a better feel for the number of visitors that they might have.
It is expected that the families of the victims will visit the memorial often and that they’ll spend time at their loved one’s memorial bench. At this point, there is just no way to know how many other Americans will visit the site. Until now, there hasn’t been a place where Americans can go to channel the thoughts, feelings and raw emotions that many of us feel even now, seven years after the attacks on September 11th.
“When they rebuilt the Pentagon site, they erased all evidence of the attack in less than a year,” said Julie Beckman, wife and partner of the architect who designed the memorial. “This will be the first of the three sites that were attacked to finally have a place for people to go and deal with their thoughts, anxieties, frustrations and grief.”
I’m looking forward to seeing photographs of the finished memorial park. Hopefully sometime soon, Marty and I will be able to make a trip to Washington DC and be able to visit the memorial and pay our respect to the men and women who lost their lives that day.