WASHINGTON – On the seventh anniversary of 9/11, the nation on Thursday dedicated the first permanent memorial to victims of the tragedy by enshrining a two-acre site honoring the 184 who lost their lives when a hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon.
Tens of thousands, including the victims’ families, gathered on the grounds of the Pentagon for the dedication by President Bush. The observance coincided with remembrances across the country to pay tribute to the nearly 3,000 victims of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Bush, who earlier led a moment of silence on the White House South Lawn at 8:46 a.m. EDT, the time the first plane hit the World Trade Center in New York, called the Pentagon memorial a place of learning for future generations.
"The day will come when most Americans have no living memory of the events of September the 11th. 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," he said. "They will learn that this generation of Americans met its duty: We did not tire, we did not falter, and we did not fail."
Designed by two young architects who experienced the horrific day in New York, the $22 million memorial is composed of 184 benches, each with a name of a victim and and illuminated by lighted reflection pools below.
Leon Golinski of New Smyrna Beach, Fla., said the dedication resurrects "old memories."
His brother, Col. Ronald F. Golinski, was one of those killed inside the Pentagon when the plane struck.
"I think this is great to have," he said of the memorial. But, he added, "it doesn't take away from the fact that I wish he was here knocking on my door."
Dedicated two years after its official groundbreaking, the memorial is the first to emerge from the attacks that launched the nation into its long war on terror and altered daily life for millions of Americans.
Hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a rural field near Shanksville, Pa. Dozens of small memorials to 9/11 victims have been erected throughout the country but major memorials in New York and Pennsylvania are perhaps years from completion.
Julie Beckman, 35, and Keith Kaseman, 36, who have since married, were only a few years out of college when they entered the design contest for the Pentagon Memorial, competing with more than 1,100 other entries in their first major design competition.
"We were living in New York on 9/11 and experienced the city in one of its darkest hours," Beckman said, adding that she and her partner had no real hope of winning and entered as "a way for us to deal with our grief."
Their winning design, which emerged from among six finalists, is now on display about 200 feet from where American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the side of the Pentagon, killing 59 passengers and 125 inside the building. The demolished section of the Pentagon was repaired within a year, in time for the second anniversary of 9/11.
The memorial field, separated from the Pentagon by a tall black fence, is organized as a timeline of the victims’ ages, moving from the youngest, 3-year-old Dana Falkenberg, to the oldest, John D. Yamnicky, a 71-year-old Navy captain. Both were passengers on the flight.
The memorial units are also positioned to distinguish the victims on the airline from those within the Pentagon. A visitor reading the names of those on Flight 77 will face the sky. Conversely, when standing at a site honoring a victim who was inside the building, a visitor will see the name and the Pentagon in the same view.
Beckman said she and Kaseman wanted to "emphasize the individuality of each person" in a "peaceful, contemporary place" that incorporates water, shade and other design and landscape elements. Paperbark maple trees have also been planted throughout the site.
The park will open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The memorial will be open to the public beginning Thursday night, but family members were escorted to the site in groups over the past several days to preview the memorial in advance of the dedication.