By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 10, 2009 - The dedication of the Pentagon Memorial one year ago was a high-profile event. Bands played, flags waved and more than 16,000 people gathered at the site where, eight years earlier, a hijacked airliner slammed into the Pentagon and took 184 lives. Tomorrow's observance will be a low-key affair, by comparison. President Barack Obama will lay a wreath at the site and deliver official remarks. The event will be closed to all but the families of the 59 people who perished aboard American Airlines Flight 77 and the 125 in the Pentagon.
And that's OK with Jim Laychak, president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund who helped lead the charge to raise funds to design and build the memorial.
"It was meant to be a very simple thing, and I think that's fine," Laychak said of tomorrow's ceremony.
"The memorial itself allows us to remember. And now that we have got that, I don't think we need big ceremonies," he said. "This [commemoration] is being done in a way that allows people to experience the memorial in their own way, which is what it was meant to do."
Laychak lost a younger brother, David, an Army civilian employee, in the 9/11 Pentagon attack. Since then, he and others who have supported the Pentagon Memorial Fund have remained committed to ensuring the world never forgets those who died that day.
Lisa Dolan, whose husband, Navy Capt. Robert E. Dolan, was among them, shares Laychak's sentiment that what's important about commemorating the 9/11 anniversary isn't the scale of the event.
"It's important to have an event, whether it's a large event like last year or a wreath-laying this year," she said. "What's important is to make sure it's not forgotten."
A private event will give families an opportunity to support each other on what Dolan acknowledged will be a difficult day for all. "It will be more intimate," she said, "and allow families to grieve – and to grieve more privately."
Dolan said she finds comfort in visiting the Pentagon Memorial, a two-acre park that features rows of cantilevered benches. Each is set over a small, illuminated reflecting pool and etched with the name of one of the victims.
Since its official unveiling last year, the memorial has seen a steady stream of visitors, although neither the Pentagon Memorial Fund nor the Pentagon police tracks the exact number. A survey taken this summer by the Pentagon Memorial Fund showed 400, 500 and 600 visitors between about 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on three different days, Laychak said.
Army Secretary Pete Geren, whose office looks out over the site, told Laychak he's particularly struck by the fact that people who visit the memorial linger to absorb what they see.
"He loved the fact that when people came, they didn't just go in and out," Laychak said. "They walked around, looked at the benches, read the stones. They really spent some time there."
Laychak and the Pentagon Memorial Fund are working to ensure more people get an opportunity to experience the memorial's impact.
They plan to introduce a docent program, with families of the Pentagon 9/11 victims helping personalize visits to the memorial.
Meanwhile, about 150 local television markets have committed to airing a documentary about the Pentagon Memorial. The program is basically a 48-minute version of the DVD distributed during last year's dedication ceremony.
The documentary includes several spots telling viewers how they can buy the DVD or donate to the Pentagon Memorial's endowment fund. Laychak said he's seen donations trickle into the Pentagon Memorial Fund after the documentary aired in Nashville, Tenn.; New York and elsewhere, and hopes the trend continues in other markets.
"It's been very well received," he said of the documentary. "It's another way to keep our message out there and keep people aware of what we are trying to do."
And that, he said, is to keep the memory of 9/11, particularly of those killed that day, alive.
"What we always wanted was for people to remember," he said. "We didn't want people to forget our loved ones and what happened that day. And I think the Pentagon Memorial ensures that will never happen."