By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 11, 2008 - As daylight faded and night closed on the Pentagon, the memorial located next to where a hijacked airliner crashed into the building seven years ago opened to the public. Many of the first sets of eyes to view the two-acre Pentagon Memorial tonight welled up with tears. Some clutched tissues to their face as they walked along rows of cantilevered benches, each rising over a small illuminated pool and engraved with the name of one of the 184 victims killed here.
"I remember it very vividly," visitor Sam Lloyd said of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "I just feel a kind of a peaceful energy here from way the park's set up and the people that are here tonight. I think it's going to be a great place for people to come and reflect for years."
Patriotic songs played by the U.S. Navy Band hung in the air as the first memorial dedicated to the nearly 3,000 victims who perished seven years ago became part of the canon of monuments in the nation's capital that are accessible to the general public.
Tonight's guests represented people of all ages, races and colors, all linked by a common solemnity as they walked the grounds of a memorial park meant to preserve the memory of a group of victims that reflected a similar diversity. When hijackers barreled American Airlines Flight 77 into the western wall of the U.S. military's top headquarters, old died beside young, servicemembers beside civilians and men beside women.
Architecturally, the park reflects the distinctions of those who perished. Each bench is arranged according to ages, from 3-year-old Dana Falkenberg to 71-year-old John D. Yamnicky. Those representing the 59 lives lost aboard the flight are positioned so visitors face the sky while reading the victim's name. When standing at one of the 125 memorial units dedicated to those who perished inside, the visitor sees the engraving and the Pentagon in the same view.
"This seems a very serene, very appropriate memorial," said Stewart Baker, who works for the Department of Homeland Security. "It's hard to capture in words [upon] first seeing it."
During a dedication ceremony this morning, President Bush said the attacks in New York, at the Pentagon and the thwarted hijacking of United Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania, are events that "changed our world forever."
"Each year on this day, our thoughts return to this place," he said. "Here we remember those who died, and here, on this solemn anniversary, we dedicate a memorial that will enshrine their memory for all time."
The president said the memorial will be a place of remembrance, and a place where those who lost family and friends can find solace. This message rang true for employees at the Pentagon, who were permitted view to the memorial this afternoon ahead of its public opening, which culminated more than two years of construction.
"It's just really humbling to be here, really peaceful," said Justin Roderick, defense contractor employee who works at the Pentagon. "I've been walking outside it for like a year and a half, wanting to come here."
But for some employees who visited the site, it stirred more difficult reactions.
"I think it was very well done, very tasteful," said Lynn Mentzer, an employee in the Defense Department's office of policy. "But on a day like today, it does drudge up a lot of emotions."
Joining Mentzer was her co-worker Victoria Foster, who knelt beside a bench bearing the name of Odessa V. Morris.
"It was Odessa's 25th wedding anniversary on that day," she said. "I went to her wedding back in 1976."
Foster said she was moved to tears as she watched this morning's dedication ceremony, remembering two former colleagues who died in the attack.
"I'm very please with what we, as a whole, have done for them all," she said, "those I didn't know, and those I knew."