Americans will never forget the tragedy of September 11, 2001. During the attacks on the United States, terrorists overcame the crew of Flight 77; thus attacking the military defense hub of the United States and killing 184. Now, decades post 9/11, Americans and foreign visitors go to Washington D.C. to remember and honor heroes at the National Pentagon 9/11 Memorial. But this isn’t just any stone memorial. There’s an impressive explanation and reason for the Pentagon Memorial’s design.
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Why Every American Should Visit the National Pentagon 9/11 Memorial
Less than a decade after the September 11th attacks on America in 2001, we set out on a motorcycle trip to Washington D.C. to partake in Rolling Thunder.
While in D.C., one of our bucket list items was to visit the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial to honor and pay respects to the victims lost on September 11th, 2001.
On the day of the motorcycle procession, we could see the newer masonry where Flight 77 impacted the building as we were approaching the Pentagon parking lot staging area.
After parking our bikes, we took a the lengthy walk to the side of the 5-sided building where National Pentagon 9/11 Memorial is located.
Upon walking through the entrance, we could feel an aura that raised the hair on the backs of our necks. Our chests tightened and our feet felt as heavy as our hearts.
As we silently walked through the memorial grounds, we’d read each of the names of the victims on the edge of every memorial bench.
Some of the benches had a few small American flags and small mementos left behind by visitors. Others were adorned with small flower bouquets temporarily planted in their respective reflecting pools.
It was hard not to feel a sense of anger while, at the same time, fighting back the tears of sadness.
One thing we oddly noticed was some of the bench openings were facing one way while others were facing opposite. Why? We’ll get to that in a minute.
September 11, 2001; Attack on American Soil
In the quiet morning of September 11th, 2001, America’s east coast was waking up to a typical routine of work, school and life as we know it.
But, that quiet morning of routine quickly shifted to utter terror, chaos and extreme loss.
Islamic terrorists hijacked 4 planes; using them to carry out suicide terrorist attacks on strategic targets on the east coast of the United States.
According to History.com,
“The hijackers were Islamic terrorists from Saudi Arabia and several other Arab nations.
Reportedly financed by the al Qaeda terrorist organization of Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden, they were allegedly acting in retaliation for America’s support of Israel, its involvement in the Persian Gulf War and its continued military presence in the Middle East.”
Hijackers of Flight 77 used the plane to missile into the Pentagon in Washington D.C.
And the last plane, Flight 93, originally intended to attack prominent government buildings in Washington D.C., was driven in the ground in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
American Airlines Flight 77 hits the Pentagon
Millions of Americans were glued to their televisions watching replays of the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City. America was then, blindsided again with yet, another attack in Washington D.C.
At 9:37 a.m., hijackers of Boeing 757 Flight 77 torpedoed straight into the west side of the Pentagon just an hour later.
Less than a year later, the section of the Pentagon that was torpedoed was rebuilt. In fact today, there’s very little physical evidence of the attack.
However, the memories from those attacks are etched in the minds of the survivors who went to work that morning and their families who’s loved ones never made it home.
Yes, it took less than a year to completely reconstruct the partial building. But, it took 7 years to erect a memorial to honor those lost on the Flight and in the Pentagon. Why so long?
How many victims died at the Pentagon on September 11?
There were 184 souls viciously taken that day. 125 military and civilians who worked at the Pentagon and 59 passengers and crew members aboard American Airlines Flight 77.
184 families became broken in a matter of seconds; preparing to hear the tragic news of their loved ones.
That number does not include the 5 hijackers on the plane. Nor should it.
About the National Pentagon 9/11 Memorial
The National Pentagon 9/11 Memorial design was developed by Julie Beckman and Keith Kaseman.
Their vision for the National Pentagon Memorial was selected from more than 1,100 submissions. The selection panel included architects, family members, and public figures in the Washington, D.C. area, including two former Secretaries of Defense.
The Design Behind the National Pentagon 9/11 Memorial
As noted by the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial website:
“The 184 Memorial Units within the Pentagon Memorial are located on the age line according to the year the victim was born.
The age lines, denoted by stainless steel strips that cross the Memorial, begin at the zero line, which spans from the Gateway to the entrance of the Memorial. Etched into the granite zero line is the date and time of the attack.”
There are 184 cantilevered benches; one for each victim who died in the terrorist attack at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.
The benches are strategically positioned within the Memorial grounds; distinguishing victims lost in the Pentagon from those lost on board American Airlines Flight 77.
“Each bench contains a pool of water that reflects light in the evenings, and they’re all positioned in a way that distinguishes the victims onboard the airplane from those inside the Pentagon.
The benches for the 59 jetliner passengers are positioned so a visitor will face the sky when reading the victim’s name.” – Defense.gov
Visitors will see each victim’s name and the Pentagon and the direction of the plane’s approach in the same view.
Also, there is a plaque at the end of each pool of water that links the family members’ names who also died in the attack, forever binding the family together.
Each memorial bench is permanently set in a lighted pool of flowing water. Each pool reflects in the evenings onto the bench and surrounding gravel field with a single victim’s name.
And, all of the memorial benches are constructed of stainless steel etched on the end with the victim’s name.
They are then, inlaid with smooth granite.
When is the best time to visit the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial
As for the best times of the year to visit the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial? There is no ‘best’ or ‘worst’ time to visit. It’s a Memorial that should be visited all year.
However, do take into consideration that summer when the kids are out of school or during school vacations, it may be crowded.
Also, during the Spring when the cherry trees blossom, it may also have more visitors than other times.
The Pentagon 9/11 Memorial is open 24 hours a day. The memorial grounds is something to see and experience both, day and night and all seasons. It’s surprisingly large and not very crowded.
Consider arriving for a tour of the Pentagon Memorial early in the morning. Notably, at 9:37 a.m. each day (0937 military time), the flow of water of each pool underneath each bench is turned off for a 1 minute moment of silence.
Are there guide tours of the Pentagon’s 9/11 Memorial?
According to Defense.gov, “Pentagon tours are available on a limited basis for U.S. citizens on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Pentagon tour guides will conduct tours for up to 20 people during each time slot.”
There are informational guides at the 9/11 Memorial. There’s also a downloadable audio tour that you can listen to on your smartphone.
Or, you can call 202-741-1004 at the Memorial entrance and listen as you tour the Memorial grounds.
The audio provides a sequential narrative of the events at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. It also explains the purpose of the memorial’s design and the building’s history.
Can visitors sit on the benches at the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial?
It struck us odd to notice several people, including school children, sitting on the memorial benches.
Though each Memorial unit is designed with a bench, we (personally) associate each unit bench similarly to that of a grave site headstone.
However, in an eyebrow raising NBC News article, Lisa Dolan, whose husband, U.S. Navy Captain Robert Dolan, was killed in the attack, said in the interview:
“the park is designed to be interactive — kids sometimes slide down the sloped benches, and that’s OK. Pentagon workers will bring their lunches out on a nice day and sit on the benches enjoying their meal, and that’s OK, too.”
In fact, she recalled seeing the grandson of one of the victims at the park, sliding down the bench dedicated to his grandmother.
“He had the biggest smile on his face. For him it was like being at the park with his grandmother,” Dolan said.
However, some of her statement (about workers eating lunch on the benches) conflicts with the Pentagon Memorial’s website FAQ’s.
“Due to sanitation concerns and vermin control, eating and drinking (except for water) in the Pentagon Memorial is not allowed.”
On that accord, we all can see the design purpose of the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial benches.
So the answer is yes! Visitors can sit on them to pray or meditate appropriately. Whether or not you can ‘enjoy lunch’, well, that’s at the discretion of the visitor. I guess though, in my mind, I find it inappropriate to do at any memorial.
What else is at the Pentagon Memorial?
The Pentagon 9/11 Memorial is the only 9/11 Memorial that does not have a visitor’s center or museum (2023).
However, the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial Visitor Education Center is expected to be built to the west of the memorial itself, on the path of Flight 77 before it hit the building.
The mission of the education center is to educate visitors and honor the memory of those lost in the attack.
It will include the families, first responders and all who supported the rescue, recovery, repair and healing on September 11, 2001 and the days, months and years that followed.
And, especially for the generation of visitors that did not experience those events directly, they will see the aftermath and lessons learned.
The Pentagon 9/11 Memorial Visitor Center is expecting to open in September 2025.
Pentagon 9/11 Memorial Chapel
On the first anniversary, the Pentagon Memorial Chapel was dedicated to those lost in the attack on the Pentagon.
Prior year makeshift memorials prompted officials and senior leaders to rebuild the original office to be a all-denomination chapel.
According to the U.S. Army, The Pentagon 9/11 Memorial Chapel has five stained glass windows dedicated to the 184 people who lost their lives in the Pentagon and on American Airlines Flight 77.
In front of the Pentagon Memorial Chapel, a stained glass window depicts a five-sided “Survivor’s Pin,” which was given to the survivors at the Pentagon. That window includes 184 pieces of red glass, representing each of the victims.
Four stained glass windows dedicated to those who perished face the outdoor Memorial.
How to get to the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial?
Getting to the Pentagon Memorial, we recommend following the directions on Google Maps.
If traveling by car from east or west, take I-66 or Route 50. But, if you’re arriving from the north or south, drive via I-95 or I-395. Then, park at the Pentagon City Mall.
It’s about a 5 minute walk from the Pentagon City Mall parking lot to the Memorial. You’ll cross cross Army Navy Drive near the Macy’s. Then, walk through the tunnel on the opposite side of the parking lot. Follow the signs directing you to the Memorial.
If you’re leaving your car behind and taking the Metro (public transportation), exit at the Pentagon Metro Station (blue line).
Then again, follow the signs around the building directing visitors to the Pentagon Memorial.
Is the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial handicap accessible?
The Pentagon Memorial was designed to be handicap accessible. Hard path surfaces cut through the park parallel to the age lines in six locations, culminating in wheelchair nooks in the perimeter bench.
There are five parking spaces available in Lane 1 of the Pentagon South Parking lot for those with disabilities.
The parking is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All vehicles using this parking must display a valid disabled parking permit issued by the state or other jurisdiction in which the vehicle is registered.
Are public restrooms available at the Pentagon Memorial?
There are restroom facilities located outside of the Memorial Gateway that are also handicap accessible. The restrooms are open daily from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Does it cost anything to tour the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial?
The Memorial is free for all to enter and tour.
What kind of security is at Pentagon 9/11 Memorial?
While there is no security check-in to enter the grounds, on-duty Pentagon Police Officers are present. They may do random spot checks and do security rounds all hours of the day and night.
Important to note, there is absolutely NO photography permitted of the Pentagon. Photos of the Memorial itself are acceptable. However, taking any photos of the building are strictly prohibited. And believe me when I tell you, they are watching! There are cameras and security watching every smartphone and camera click.
Also, other activities and items that are prohibited on the Pentagon Reservation are also prohibited inside the Pentagon Memorial Park.
- Open containers of alcoholic beverages
- Other dangerous substances
- Commercial or political soliciting
- Vending and/or hanging of posters, flyers, handbills
How long does the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial tour take?
The walking tour takes anywhere from 1-3 hours to explore and complete the tour of the entire 9/11 Pentagon Memorial and Chapel.
How many people visit the National Pentagon 9/11 Memorial?
Dedicated in 2008, the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial receives nearly 1 million visitors each year.
✰✰ PENTAGON 9/11 MEMORIAL TOUR TIP ✰✰ For additional tour information or questions, check out the Pentagon Memorial FAQ page.
Final thoughts on visiting the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial
America is now into the third decade post terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
The National Pentagon 9/11 Memorial offers a place to honor those lost on Flight 77 and in the Pentagon building.
While it’s also a somber reminder of America’s loss, it’s also to reflect our Nation’s resilience to overcome tragedy.
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