Pentagon Memorial Unveiled
Families call it breathtaking and respectful
A man sits on a bench and rubs his hand back and forth on the surface of a bench dedicated to a Sept. 11 victim, Thursday, Sept. 11, 2008, after the dedication ceremony of the Pentagon Memorial on the seventh anniversary of the attacks at the Pentagon. (Photo:©Gerald Herbert/AP Images)
When you enter the Pentagon's new 9/11 memorial, the first bench you see belongs to 3-year-old Dana Falkenberg. The next one belongs to her 9-year old sister, Zoe.
Each of the 184 victims of the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, were honored with a bench in a two-acre park on the 7th anniversary of when a plane struck the world's largest office building. The victims included 59 airline passengers and 125 Pentagon employees. The park is outside the Pentagon wall, where the plane hit.
The gently bent metal and granite benches are arranged from youngest to oldest victims, which is why Dana's is first. She and her sister were traveling with their parents on American Airlines Flight 77 when it crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. on 9/11/2001. On the same plane was also the oldest victim, John Yamnicky, a 71-year-old former test pilot who had survived five plane crashes during his military career.
The benches are designed to tell the viewer a little bit about the person each represents. Names of people who were on the plane face west. The names of people who died in the Pentagon face the building. Names are etched on the end of each wing-shape bench. A small tranquil pond gurgles beneath, while maple trees planted next to each bench will one day provide shade.
People began arriving for the ceremony just after sunrise. The metal benches were each covered with blue cloth. A service man or woman stood at attention by each, ready to unveil each piece as the names were read.
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and current Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke, as did President George W. Bush,
"The day will come when most Americans have no living memory of the events of September the 11th," Bush said. "When they visit this memorial, they will learn that the 21st century began with a great struggle between the forces of freedom and the forces of terror."
The President acknowledged that "a memorial can never replace what those of you mourning a loved one have lost."
Some of the family members who spoke to Scholastic News said they were pleased with the memorial, calling it respectful.
"It's what those who died would have wanted," said Stephanie Dunn-DeSimone of Chesapeake, Virginia. Dunn-DeSimone lost her husband, Commander Patrick Dunn, U.S. Navy, in the Pentagon attacks. At the time, she was three months pregnant with their daughter, Allie, now a first-grade student who seemed slightly overwhelmed by the dedication ceremony. "She's never heard the word ‘terrorism' before today," said Ms. Dunn-DeSimone. "I think she'll be asking a lot of questions about it later."
Bea Woolen of Atlanta, Georgia, called the memorial, "beautiful and breathtaking." "I hope everyone else will think it's beautiful too," she said. Woolen's sister, Sgt. Tamara Thurman, U.S. Army, worked at the Pentagon.
Ten therapy dogs also attended the service. A few of these dogs were called to the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, to provide comfort forvictims, relatives, and others at the Family Assistance Center.
"Therapy dogs usually visit and comfort people at nursing homes and hospitals," said handler Michael Paul. "We also take them to libraries because we've found that kids who struggle with reading in front of their peers are not afraid to read to a dog."
Three of the dogs, Howe, Andrew, and Tasha, have visited the Pentagon many times over the past several years, providing a calm and friendly presence for humans dealing with difficult emotions. This was evident at the dedication ceremony, as people surrounded the dogs, petting and talking to them. the dogs remained relaxed; a black Labrador named Perlie actually managed to fall asleep in the middle of all the commotion.
Looking around at the family members sitting on the benches, sharing memories, and taking pictures, Dunn-DeSimone made a final comment to Scholastic News.
"I want visitors to come away from this memorial with the sense that these people died for our country and they would have wanted to be remembered," she said. "It's a beautiful place."
For more coverage of the seventh anniversary of 9/11, read Danielle Azzolina's report from the Voices of September 11th event in New York City.
See how young people like you have responded to the anniversaries of the attacks.
Madison Hartke-Weber is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.