Families at Pentagon Memorial Reflect on Lost Loved Ones
By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 11, 2010 Rebecca Dolan is a busy 24-year-old, a recent college graduate pursuing a journalism career here in the nation’s capital. But on this day, as she has each year on Sept. 11, Dolan paused to return to the site at the Pentagon where terrorists stole the lives of her father and 183 others.
Family members sit on the bench dedicated to their loved one at the Pentagon Memorial, Sept. 11, 2010. The memorial honors the 184 innocents who died at the Pentagon during the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack. About 200 family members of victims were joined by the president, the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for a ceremony marking the ninth anniversary of the attack. DoD photo by Cherie Cullen
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“It’s easy to get occupied in your everyday life,” said Dolan, whose father, Navy Capt. Robert E. Dolan, worked in the building. “Coming here is a grounding experience for me. Everyone coming together is a reminder of hope for the future.”
Dolan was among some 200 family members of those killed in the 9/11 attacks who attended a closed service held this morning to coincide with the time and location that the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the south side of the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m., nine years ago. Under a cloudless blue sky and with a fall chill in the air – much like the paradoxically beautiful weather of Sept. 11, 2001 – men, women and children gathered around 184 cantilevered benches bearing the name plates of their loved ones.
“This is a great accomplishment,” said Jim Laychak, president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund, which raised $25 million to build the two-acre memorial, dedicated on Sept. 11, 2008. Like others with the fund, which chose the design for the memorial, Laychak suffered a personal loss: his brother, David Laychak, an Army civilian, was killed in the attack.
“We all worked together to accomplish something great out of a terrible event,” he said. “Instead of walking around remembering smoke and flames, families can sit on benches and reflect on their loved ones.”
Families did just that, some wearing T-shirts and buttons bearing the faces of fallen loved ones, others in mournful black. They strolled through walkways arranged by the ages of the victims, from 3-year-old Dana Falkenberg at the south end to 71-year-old John D. Yamnicky at the north. People were silent or spoke softly as they milled about under young maple trees and around the benches, each with a lighted pool underneath, while an Army brass band played quietly in the background.
President Barack Obama took to the dais flanked by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Each spoke of the sacrifices of the victims, their families and the troops who have endured nine years of war in the aftermath. Afterward, they formed a receiving line, shaking hands with the family members and posing for pictures.
“Look, guys, I got a picture of Papa with President Obama!” a woman told her children.
Later, the families gathered under a nearby canopy for refreshments, many sharing memories of that day, first of the disbelief, then of the person left behind.
In Dolan’s case, she didn’t know her father had recently returned to the building after working in an annexed office during Pentagon renovations. So when the teachers at her nearby high school announced that they saw smoke billowing from the direction of the Pentagon, she wasn’t immediately alarmed.
For Laychak, who lived only a couple miles from the Pentagon, he was convinced his brother would escape unharmed and walk to his home. “I kept watching for him to walk up the street,” he said.
For Barbara Cobb, of Hilton Head, S.C., the tragedy underscored her faith. Cobb lost her sister, Edna Stephens, an Army budget analyst who was soon to retire after 34 years of civil service, in the attack. After waiting all day to hear from her sister, Cobb said, she was reminded of a startling vision she’d had the day before of a faceless man in a white robe setting a place at an ornate table. Cobb said she felt that she should call her sister that day, but decided to put it off.
“I’ll say this to everybody: when it comes to your loved ones, anything that comes across your mind and heart to do for them, do it then, because you may not have a tomorrow,” she said. “Edna didn’t have a tomorrow.”