By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 8, 2007 - On a day as clear and sunny as the fateful one six years before, tourists and local citizens came to the Pentagon today to pay homage and honor those who lost their lives when a terrorist-controlled airliner crashed into the building Sept. 11, 2001.
In hushed voices or with respectful silence, hundreds of people came to the U.S. military's headquarters to see the crash site of American Airlines Flight 77 that left 184 people dead and a country grief-stricken. Spectators filed by the side of the building draped with a gigantic American flag in honor of the anniversary and viewed the only remnant of the day's destruction: a blacked stone bearing the date of the attack.
"I hurt for all the suffering that has gone on here, and for the loss of the families," said Nubia Castano, as she clasped her hands to her heart and struggled to overcome her emotions. "We wish so badly that this wouldn't have happened." She and her husband, Carlos, are visiting the nation's capital from Miami. They said they consider it luck that the day before they are to return home they could come to the crash site to pay their respects.
Although they consider all the monuments in Washington to be "magnificent," they said the Pentagon has the most meaning to them. Servicemembers working at the Pentagon as tour guides provided the timeline and logistics of the day's attack on the building as visitors entered into the America's Heroes Memorial and the Pentagon's Memorial Chapel.
"Just think, I was pregnant with you when this happened," Susan Ciconte whispered to her 5-year-old daughter, Kaitlynn, as they stepped through the doors of the chapel. Ciconte, an Air Force wife of more than 20 years, said she and her family had just arrived to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana the day before the attacks. President Bush, having left Florida upon getting word of the attacks, stopped briefly at Barksdale in the early hours of the crisis.
"I have a photo of Air Force One as it's taking off from the base," Ciconte said. "I will never forget that day." Washington native Nancy Fearheiley was just as awestruck as the out-of-town tourists during her first visit to the Pentagon.
"We all remember where we were that day," she said, as she looked off into the distance. Had it not been for her taking an alternate route to work that morning due to road construction, Fearheiley said, she would have been driving by the building at the moment the plane hit.
Living only a mile from the Pentagon, she said, she clearly remembers every sight, sound and smell of that day. "It was devastating," she said. "It was an absolutely gorgeous day, but following the attack ... it was just surreal."
Fearheiley described how the city took on the quality of an empty movie set. The absence of traffic, planes overhead and ambient noise in general caused the city to fall into an eerie silence, she recalled. As she drove home that evening, she said, the city's Georgetown neighborhood was like a ghost town, with armed soldiers posted on street corners to provide security.
"And the smell in the air – I will never be able to get it out of my memory," she said, cringing. "It was the smell of jet fuel, burnt clothing ... and of people. A smell doesn't often make a memory, but that one did."
Although she drives by the site daily, Fearheiley said, visiting the Pentagon today gave her a different perspective. "I got chills and teared up while standing in the chapel," she said softly. "I realized the sanctity of what occurred here. This will be hallowed, honored ground forever."