remembering

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It is striking in its unique and haunting simplicity.

The concept is most distinctive, and in its own way, reassuring.

Just looking at it calms you.

Pentagon-MemorialThe setting is a busy place with traffic rushing nearby, and often, airplanes overhead. It’s difficult to get to during business days, but amazingly simple during weekends.

We refer of the Pentagon Memorial in Washington, D.C., the first memorial to 9-11, created to remember and honor those people who perished when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

Few people zipping along nearby Interstate 395 near the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. will realize that the Memorial exists. Only a few signs along the side roads point to the two acre site. When we visited, late on a Sunday, few people were there. The Memorial is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Once there, access is easy, with no checkpoints, gates or fees. It’s self-directed, with no brochures or guides: in other words, simple and non-intrusive by design.

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A total of eight crape myrtle trees are clustered near the memorial units. Benches pointing toward the Pentagon are for the 125 victims in the Pentagon. Benches pointed in the direction of the airplane’s approach are for the 59 lives lost on the plane. The trees are expected to grow 30-feet high, providing a canopy of shade over the memorial for years to come.

Rows of distinctive cantilevered benches, on parallel tracts, one for each person who perished, point to and from the Pentagon, along the flight path of the ill-fated aircraft. The benches are arranged in order of the years of birth of those who died, the youngest being three years old, the oldest 71. Some bench lines have just one person named along it toward the Pentagon; others have several memorialized.

Altogether, there are 184 benches, each 14 feet long, weighing 1,100 pounds. Those pointing toward the Pentagon honor the 125 people who were in the Pentagon at the time of the crash. Those 55 benches pointing to the approach of the airplane honor those on board that airplane. Each bench has the name of a victim on it. The benches are formed of stainless steel, with inlaid smooth granite, above a pool of water, which also reflects light at night.

Visitors to Washington have spoken of the distinctive design of the Vietnam Memorial. It certainly is unique. In a calming way, the Pentagon Memorial is more distinguishing, perhaps because of the repeated row after row of benches honoring the victims, all set in a relative obscure and mostly quiet area adjacent to the building where the airplane struck. Though there is a continual hum of vehicles on the nearby Interstate, somehow you tune that out of your mind as you are aware of the many individuals memorialized by the benches.

Pentagon-Memorial-NightFor the competition to design the Pentagon Memorial, there were 1,126 entries from 65 countries. The Army Corps of Engineers narrowed the entries to a simple design by two young New Yorkers, Keith Kaseman and Julie Beckman, now teachers who are married to each other living in Philadelphia. She teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, and he at both Pennsylvania and Columbia University.

Nearby Washington D.C. is a treasure trove of museums, statues, memorials and workaday buildings recognizing contributions to our country. History has been commemorated in this area for years. Now this new Pentagon Memorial is an addition to this scene, just across the Potomac from the Capitol.

Other big-name meccas will bid for your time in Washington. Enjoy them. Yet make time to visit the Pentagon Memorial. It will stir your memories.

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IF YOU GO, remember the area is crowded with traffic during business hours. Going later in the day, or at night or weekends, is recommended.

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This article originally appeared at Gwinnett Forum. Images: the first three images in this story are from PentagonMemorial.org (fair use); the evening photo is by Marabuchi from their Flickr photostream and used under creative commons license.
Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack is a native Georgian and veteran newspaperman. He published the weekly Wayne County Press for 12 years; was for 13 years the vice president and general manager of Gwinnett Daily News, and for 13 years was associate publisher of the Gwinnett section of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. He now publishes, in retirement, Web sites on Gwinnett County, http://www.gwinnettforum.com, and Georgia news, http://www.georgiaclips.com.