Site Dedicated to Pentagon's Sept. 11 Victims
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 15, 2006 In a solemn ceremony under sunny skies, the ground that nearly five years ago was the scene of a catastrophic attack was today dedicated to the memory of those who were killed.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld speaks to the audience at the June 15 site dedication ceremony to mark the beginning of work on the Pentagon Memorial at the site where 184 innocent lives were lost when terrorist hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 crashed on Sept. 11, 2001. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, USN
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Senior Defense Department leaders, Cabinet members, members of Congress, family members, friends and Pentagon employees gathered for the ceremony to mark the start of construction on the Pentagon Memorial, which is being built at the place where hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
"We remember all who hallow this ground - the passengers of American Airlines Flight 77 and the men and women, military and civilian, who worked here and quietly and capably served their country," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said at the ceremony. "Today we claim this ground for them, for their families, and for the brave servicemen and women who have volunteered to go out to meet our nation's enemies and to keep our country safe."
The Pentagon Memorial, which is set to be completed in 2008, will cover a two-acre site and will contain 184 illuminated benches representing each of the people killed at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, with lighted reflecting pools beneath each bench.
Jim Laychak, president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund and whose brother David was killed in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, said today's ceremony represents a high point in years of work to make the memorial a reality. "Today marks a positive outcome from a tragic day," he said.
Today's ceremony is also about remembrance of the victims, Laychak said. He said he will remember the way his brother laughed and hugged, and the bond they shared.
"That's what will become the essence of this place," he said. "It will be a place for remembering our loved ones."
Abraham Scott, whose wife, Janice, a budget analyst, was killed in the Pentagon attack, said he remembers his wife's fun-loving attitude and her love for children. If she could have seen today's ceremony, she would have been overwhelmed, he said.
"I think she would be extremely elated," he said, choking back tears. "She would be happy and proud of the work that all of us are doing today to keep their memory alive."
When family members of those killed here on Sept. 11 return to the completed memorial, they will be flooded with memories, not only of loss, but also of love, laughter and happy times, Rumsfeld said. That is the reason this memorial is being built, and will be the most important thing it will accomplish, he said.
"This memorial was meant for you, to offer some comfort," Rumsfeld said to the attending family members. "We have talked over the years and now you can know that we will never forget."
The memorial will also serve as a reminder to anyone who would attack the U.S., Scott said.
"I think that this will prove to the terrorists that we will not bend to their will," he said. "We will continue to fight, regardless of what they do to us. This nation will continue to fight."
During the ceremony, Rumsfeld, representatives of the Pentagon Memorial Fund and the memorial designers unveiled an inscribed memorial marker stone. The stone reads: "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 those who sacrifice that we may live in freedom. We will never forget."
The Pentagon Memorial Fund has currently raised about half of the money needed to build the memorial. Today, Laychak reminded those at the ceremony of their commitment to see the memorial completed.
"Our job is not done; we have a long way to go," he said. "By participating in this event, all of us are making a commitment. We will complete this memorial."
Years from now, there may be people who visit the Pentagon Memorial who will not know about the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Rumsfeld said. It is the responsibility of those who witnessed it or were touched by it to pass on the legacy of the brave Americans who gave the ultimate sacrifice that day, he said.
"Tell them this is where men and women became targets and were killed because they were free Americans," Rumsfeld said. "Tell them that there have always been those who fear and oppose our country's values, our cause. And tell them that history is the epic story of their defeat, and freedom's triumph."