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 killing 184. Now, decades later, Americans and foreign visitors go to Washington D.C. to remember and honor them by visiting the 9/11 Pentagon 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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National Pentagon 9/11 Memorial in Washington D.C.
Less than a decade after the 9/11 attacks on America, 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 the victims lost on September 11th, 2001.
On the day of the procession, approaching the Pentagon staging area, we could see the newer masonry where Flight 77 impacted the building. Once we parked our bikes, it was a lengthy walk to the side where Pentagon Memorial is located.
Upon arriving at the entrance, we silently walked through the memorial grounds reading the names of the victims on the edge of the benches. Some of the benches had a few had small American flags and small momentos. Others were adorned with small flower bouquets temporarily planted in the reflecting pools.
We then learned why certain benches were facing one way while others were facing opposite. It was hard not to feel a sense of anger while, at the same time, fighting back the tears.
What happened on September 11, 2001
In the quiet morning of September 11th, 2001, America’s east coast was waking up and going about their normal routines. But, the quiet morning of routine quickly shifted to utter terror, chaos and extreme loss. 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, “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.”
Chronologically, terrorist hijackers used two of the planes, Flight 11 and Flight 175, to drive straight into the Twin Towers in New York City. 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.
Flight 77 hits the Pentagon
As millions of Americans were glued to their televisions watching replays of the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City, America was blindsided again with yet, another attack. But the third attack occurred 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. All 64 aboard and another 125 in the Pentagon building were killed. After which, 184 families would be preparing to hear the tragic news of their loved ones.
Less than a year later, that section of the Pentagon was rebuilt. In fact, there’s very little physical evidence of the attack. However, the memories from those attacks are etched in the minds of those who went to work that day and their families who’s loved ones never made it home.
But, it took 7 years to erect a memorial to honor those lost on the Flight and in the Pentagon.
How many victims died at the Pentagon on September 11?
There were 184 victims total. 125 victims who worked in the Pentagon and 59 victims who were passengers and crew on American Airlines Flight 77. This number does not include the 5 hijackers on the plane.
About the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial
The Pentagon 9/11 Memorial design was developed by Julie Beckman and Keith Kaseman. Their vision for the Pentagon Memorial was selected from more than 1,100 submissions by a panel of architects, family members, and public figures in the Washington, D.C. area, including two former Secretaries of Defense.
The Design Elements of the 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 on the Pentagon. The benches are strategically positioned within the Memorial; distinguishing victims lost in the Pentagon from those who 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 permanently set in a lighted pool of flowing water that 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.
How many people visit the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial?
Emily Cassell, director of Arlington County’s convention and visitor services, said the estimates run between 225,000 and 250,000 annually.
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Can you sit on the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial benches?
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 9/11 Pentagon Memorial benches. So yes, visitors can sit on them to pray or meditate appropriately.
Are there guide tours of the Pentagon’s 9/11 Memorial?
There are no official guide tours. However, 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.
The Pentagon Memorial is the only 9/11 attack site that does not have its’ own visitor’s center or museum (yet).
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. It’s expecting to open in September 2025.
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.
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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