From the Inside Out: Sept. 11 Memorialized
By Casie Vinall
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 15, 2003 Today, there's no visible reminder of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon. The destroyed section of the building has been rebuilt. Its gray stone facade has been meticulously restored.
The outside appears as it has since the military headquarters was built in 1941. Inside, however, is another story.
The inside section has been restored with one significant addition: the Pentagon Memorial and Chapel.
This facility now stands at the exact site of impact to honor the 184 attack victims, serving as a solemn and fitting reminder of the tragic day none who witnessed will forget. Accessible to the public only through special tours, the memorial and chapel was designed by Defense Department artists and opened in September 2002.
Inside the dimly lit memorial, a quote by President Bush is inscribed on the polished steel central wall along with the names of those lost and missing: "One death can leave sorrow that seems almost unbearable. But to all of you who lost someone here, I want to say: You are not alone."
The adjacent walls display the Purple Heart medal and the Defense of Freedom medal. A folded flag that covered the casket honoring the victims during the group burial at nearby Arlington National Cemetery on Sept. 12, 2002, hangs on the opposite wall.
Upon a table in the center, the pages of a memorial book are open to Brady Kay Howell, 26, from Rexburg, Idaho. Perhaps not one of the better-known victims, his story on the page begins with "a beloved and fun-loving husband, son, brother, uncle, and friend" a familiar story of so many victims.
Bill Eicher, an assistant in the Army chaplain's office, regularly visits the memorial and chapel. He describes it as a "very sad and heart-wrenching" reminder, but also a "very befitting tribute to those who died."
"In some ways it's much like the Vietnam wall," said Eicher. "Both are very solemn and sad appropriately so."
As Eicher leaves the memorial, a group from the Air National Guard Crisis Action Team at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., enters. One member walks up to the plaque bearing the names, stating to his group, "Here's the family I worked with." He takes a long piece of parchment, places it over the name of his friend and rubs the name onto the paper with a pencil provided on a side table.
Another Guardsman, Chaplain (Col.) David Cooper, is visiting the memorial for the first time. "You just can't describe it," he said, speaking of the tragedy. The memorial, he declares, is a "fitting tribute."
"It's moving when you think about it and focus on it," said Eric Prasse, an electrical inspector at the Pentagon who said he stops in often. It "helps to have a memorial here that (says) the victims were thought of and well-honored."
Prasse was on-site when the crash occurred. He lost one of his friends in the attack. He takes out the friend's small picture he carries in his wallet.
Prasse estimates he has visited the memorial a hundred times. "I've got a lot of appreciation for everyone who has built the building as well and as fast as they did," he said, referring to how quickly the damage was repaired and sections reopened.
A family with small children enters the memorial, children too young to know this tragedy. This memorial exists for them too, so that they can honor those who died, lest they be forgotten.
Inscribed on a plaque in the memorial are words from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Oct. 11, 2001: "We are mindful too, and resolute, that their deaths, like their lives, shall have meaning."
An outdoor memorial that will be open to the public is to be built on nearly two acres of land along the path the passenger jet took just before it hit the building. The Army Corps of Engineers began planning the outdoor memorial in October 2001. Corps officials selected a winning design from over 1,000 contest entries. They project a Sept. 11, 2004, dedication, the third anniversary of the attack.
(Casie Vinall is an intern working for DefendAmerica.mil in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.)