Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Pentagon 9/11 Memorial

On the anniversary of 9/11, I decided to honor this day by relating our experiences at the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial. It was our last full day in DC and, somewhat surprisingly, Dianna was the one who made it a point that we see the memorial before we left.
Little known factoid is that there is no public parking for the memorial on the Pentagon grounds. Parking for the memorial is located at the Pentagon City shopping mall across the highway. Access is by parking in the Mall parking structure ($2 dollars for 2 hours). You walk across the street to the outer Pentagon parking lot, through a really cool tunnel under the I-395 highway and a walk on a well designated path to the memorial. Don’t stray, there are security police and cameras everywhere.

Oh yeah….absolutely no photography around or toward the Pentagon except when it’s directed into the memorial site. Fact….saw a lady get yelled at for poking her camera lens through the perimeter fence of the memorial toward the building. I, on the other hand, just casually snapped my shots without lifting the camera (old surveillance trick). A cool feature is the cell phone self-guided tour you have access to by calling (202) 741-1004. Very informative.

The Pentagon Memorial captures that moment in time at 9:37 a.m. when 184 lives ended when American Airlines Flight 77 hurtled over the DC landscape and came to rest at the south wall of the Pentagon. There are 125 Memorial Units honoring the victims of the Pentagon (55 military personnel and 70 civilians) and 59 lives lost on Flight 77. The unique design of the Pentagon Memorial reflects the path of the aircraft and serves as a timeline of the victims’ ages, spanning from the youngest victim, three-year-old  Dana Falkenberg, who was on board American Airlines Flight 77, to the oldest,  John D. Yamnicky, 71.

Begun in June of 2006, dedicated and opened to the public on September 11, 2008 by President Bush, the memorial is a bit of a departure from other traditional memorials we have seen over the years. Rather stark by most standards, it was at once, powerful and hauntingly barren. I say that because the memorial is flat and expansive, layered with crushed rock, almost a moonscape. After the 9/11 attacks, an impromptu memorial had been set up at the Navy Annex on the hill above, overlooking the Pentagon where the  Air Force Memorial now resides (completed in 2006). That hill also marks the point where Flight 77 flew over as it made its final descent into the Pentagon.


On the western perimeter of the gravel field, an Age Wall grows one inch per year in height above the perimeter bench relative to the age lines. As visitors move through the Memorial, the wall gets higher, growing from three inches (the age of Dana Falkenberg) to 71 inches (the age of John D. Yamnicky).


The memorial is a set of 184 illuminated benches in the landscaped two acre lot. Each bench is engraved with the name of a victim. The benches representing the victims that were inside the Pentagon are arranged so those reading the names will face the Pentagon's south facade, where the plane hit; benches dedicated to victims aboard the plane are arranged so that those reading the engraved name will be facing skyward along the path the plane traveled. If more than one member of a family died during the attack, family names are listed in the reflecting pool under the bench.

The sight of the aircraft striking the building must have been horrific. Traveling at approximately 530 mph, the plane hit the Pentagon at the first-floor level and, at the moment of impact, the airplane was rolled slightly to the left, with the right wing elevated. It flew so low, the aircraft cut down five street light poles before contacting the wall. The front part of the fuselage disintegrated on impact, while the mid and tail sections moved for another fraction of a second, with tail section debris penetrating furthest into the building. In all, the airplane took eight-tenths of a second to fully penetrate 310 feet into the three outermost of the building's five rings.

Looking at the Pentagon today, all the destruction has been repaired but the point of contact for the aircraft is still visible. When the façade was repaired, several of the original exterior tiles were salvaged and placed at the point of impact around the 6th window, between the first and second floors, just left of the three wood exit doors bottom right. You can tell by the slight color difference between the new and old wall panels.

Although stark and simple, the memorial evokes a powerful statement about that event and it’s place in the overall 9/11 tragedy. On the plane were a family starting out for a vacation in Australia and a group of students were attending a National Geographic trip to the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary in Santa Barbara, California. Who could have imagined how that day would end for those people. Where would they be today, 11 years later, if some stupid fanatics hadn’t set out to conquer America? We’ll never know what contributions they would have made but we do know the hurt and suffering of the families and friends left behind will be with them as long as they live. Above all….we can never forget.

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