The National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Department of Justice employees at the Pentagon were learning of two planes colliding with the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. At 9:37AM, however, they, too, became involved in the disaster. American Airlines Flight 77 had left Dulles International Airport en route to Los Angeles, California, when – between 8:51AM and 8:54AM – five terrorists hijacked the plane. The attackers drove the plane into the Pentagon, killing 125 people within its walls and all 64 people aboard the plane. In all, 184 lives were lost that devastating day.
In October of 2002, creative minds from around the world submitted nearly 1,100 design ideas for the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial. Ultimately, on March 3, 2003, a jury composed of architects, family members of the deceased, and public figures of the greater DC area unanimously chose the winner – a design by architects Keith Kaseman and Julie Beckman. In a joint statement, they remarked, “The Pentagon Memorial will take on its own life, attracting meaning and contemplative interpretation from all of those who visit this special place.”
The National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial was opened on September 11, 2008 on the seventh anniversary of the tragedy. At the opening ceremony, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates noted the importance of the Memorial in bringing together the Nation. “With this memorial, we pay our respects to the 184 souls, to the many who were injured, and to the families who still grieve. While no public display can make up for the injustice or lessen the pain of their losses, the one that we dedicate today binds all of America to the dead and their survivors. Your suffering and your solace, so personal to you, become the Nation’s as well. From now on, the Pentagon is more than a symbol of government, more than the seat of military affairs – it is a place of remembrance.”
The Memorial itself is designed to play on the visitor’s senses, from the crunch of the gravel on the ground to the soft trickle of water running under each Memorial Unit.
The entry to the Memorial begins with the Entry Stone, reading, “We claim this ground in remembrance of the events of September 11, 2001. To honor the 184 people whose lives were lost, their families, and all who sacrifice that we may live in freedom. We will never forget.” On the reverse of the stone are inscriptions of contributors to the Memorial, including those involved in the design, construction, and funding of the project. Additionally, this is the beginning of a 24-minute long audio tour for visitors, easily accessed by calling a number on his/her mobile device.
The visitor next walks into the Memorial Gateway, which is a large open space intended to be a place of reflection and thought before entry into the Memorial itself. Also in this space, the visitor can first observe the 84 Crape Myrtle trees that are distributed throughout the Memorial.
The Zero Line – demarcating the separation between the Memorial Gateway and the remainder of the Memorial – is inscribed with the date and time of the crash. Once the visitor has crossed this line, he/she will observe the parallel stainless steel Age Lines running at a nearly 45 degree angle to the Pentagon in the flight path of the plane. Along each age line resides a Memorial Unit. Each Memorial Unit is a stainless steel cantilevered bench inlaid with smooth granite arching over a small pool of water inscribed with the name of each victim at the end of the bench. Additionally, the direction in which the name is facing indicates whether the victim was aboard Flight 77 or was in the Pentagon at the time of the attack. If the visitor can read the name with his/her back to the Pentagon and is facing the sky, the victim died aboard Flight 77. Likewise, if the visitor can read the name facing the Pentagon, the victim died within the Pentagon. Lastly, at the base of the pool of water flowing underneath the Memorial Unit, a plaque listing family members of the deceased who also died on that day can be found.
A Locator Stone is placed near the entrance of the Memorial, which lists the names of each victim along with his/her birth year. This allows for visitors to easily identify the location of each Memorial Unit by simply following the Age Lines.
The point of impact is visible on the east side of the Memorial through a fence separating the Pentagon from the Memorial. Additionally, a charred black stone that was an original stone of the Pentagon building and was pulled from the wreckage can be seen as part of the newly-built Pentagon building.
Lastly, the Age Wall, which runs along the west side of the Memorial, “grows” in size by one inch relative to the Age Lines. It begins at the 1998 Age Line – the birth year of the youngest victim, Dana Falkenberg, and is three (her age on September 11, 2001) inches above the perimeter bench. It ends at the 1930 Age Line, which is the birth year of the oldest victim, John Yamnicky, and is 71 (his age on September 11, 2001) inches above the perimeter bench.
Each day, the water beneath the Memorial Units is turned off at 9:37AM in a moment of silence to commemorate the exact time of the crash. This Memorial was built with the intention of creating a lasting memory for family, friends, and all Americans to ensure that the events on that occurred on that tragic day will never be forgotten. Thomas Heidenberger is the Director of the Pentagon Memorial Fund and is a board member on the September 11 National Memorial Trail. Tragically, Mr. Heidenberger lost his wife, Michele Heidenberger, who was serving as lead flight attendant of Flight 77 on September 11, 2001. He notes, “When one visits the Memorial, one senses that they are in a place of American history, that they are in or on sacred ground. The Memorial not just recognizes the sacrifice of the victims of 9/11, but also honors their memory and their lives with the Memorial itself. The layout and representation of the benches and the reflecting pool under each bench with the sound of rushing water creates a place to remember our loved ones, to reflect on the sacrifice of so many, and to renew our commitment to continue with our lives.”
Many thanks to Thomas Heidenberger for his contributions to this article.
Additional information regarding the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial can be found at http://pentagonmemorial.org.