By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 14, 2008 - When Jim Laychak looks out over the 184 benches that serve as the centerpiece for the new Pentagon Memorial, he sees life. Rays of early-afternoon sunlight reflect on pools beneath each bench, sending ripples of light dancing across the stainless-steel benches. "I look at it as these guys talking to us," Laychak said, referring to the 184 victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon honored at the memorial. "It's them coming back and saying, 'We appreciate what you have done. We appreciate that you will never forget,'" he said.
Laychak has worked tirelessly to keep alive the memory of 125 servicemembers and civilian workers at the Pentagon and 59 passengers and crew aboard American Airlines Flight 77 killed in the attack. As president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund, he has been the public face to a project he said captured broad, collaborative support.
Exactly four weeks before the memorial's official dedication, Laychak said today that he never doubted the dream of creating a memorial to those killed in the attack would come to fruition. "I didn't know the path we would take to get here, but I really believed that we would get here," he said. "I knew this day would come."
Even the big-ticket price attached to the project -- $22 million for construction, plus $10 million for an endowment fund, all in private funds -- didn't faze Laychak. "I knew the money would come because I knew that we were doing God's work," he said. "It was just a matter of sticking with it and focusing on the right things."
Laychak expressed appreciation to those who donated to the cause, particularly the companies that stepped forward and provided the biggest contributions. "When we went to them and asked for support, it wasn't, 'Let me think about it.' It was 'What do you need? How much can I give?'"
But beyond contributors, Laychak said the memorial represents a collaboration by a large group of other people, as well: Pentagon officials, the design and construction team, family members and volunteer fundraisers, all working toward the same goal. "It was everybody believing in that goal and working together," he said. "This isn't an individual achievement. It's what we have accomplished as a team."
The project is slated for completion Aug. 31, but Chris Hertzler, senior project manager, said it's two to three weeks ahead of schedule. "We're working on the final touch-up, fixing little nicks and scratches and dings," he said. "We're really pretty much done now."
Everyone who has been involved in the effort feels an emotional attachment to it and pride in how it's evolved, Hertzler said. "From the families all the way to the guys out here swinging a hammer, everyone was behind each other, helping each other out," he said.