Pentagon Memorial

If a tree falls in the woods …If a memorial is built, and no one can get to it …

Thus was the vexing challenge posed by the proposed Pentagon Memorial to the victims killed there Sept. 11, 2001. The memorial will be dedicated Sept. 11, 2008, and is in what used to be off-limits to mortals and those without the correct credentials.

Families of the 184 who perished when American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the west side of the building that morning in 2001 were insistent that the memorial be at the crash site. Though visitors are anticipated to surpass the million man mark, memorial proponents’ desires prevailed beyond expectations — the site was approved and will be open ‘round the clock every day of the year. 

If the D.C. tour titans put the memorial on their itineraries, millions could be visiting each year, posing a challenge (headache) for Pentagon security. It won’t help much, but there will be not on-site parking (save for a few handicapped spots). Visitors will have to arrive at the Pentagon Metro or park about a half-mile away. Photography will be forbidden everywhere on the campus except for the memorial. (Good luck enforcing that one.) 

When the memorial was proposed, many had their doubts. A memorial already had been erected inside the building, accessible to the internal audience and Pentagon tour groups. But organizers have raised a large part of the private funds required for the $32 million project. Initial reports are positive. The two-acre plot has been transformed into a serene park-like setting. A bench with a reflecting pool beneath stands for each victim. The pools light up, affording a very different experience after dark, and night memorial cruising is a favorite pastime for locals and visitors alike. 

It is difficult to imagine all the family members bought into this idea. In an era when memorials have become all the rage, somehow “appropriate” and “fitting” are hollow sentiments. No one wants loved ones forgotten, and such efforts can take the disinterested hostage. Certainly people will shed tears at this memorial as they have at others that immortalize Vietnam, Korea, and World War II. The memorial to World War I, though local to D.C., might be the most elegant, a mark of a different time. 

The most poignant tribute to those who perished at the Pentagon might be the massive, charred block pulled from the rubble used as a base in the rebuilding of the destroyed section. Its beauty is in its simplicity. The clichéd “out of the ashes” idea applies. The stone lives on as does the building as does the memory of the 184 — park or no park.

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