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My Visit to the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial
Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the recently opened Pentagon Memorial. After visiting with the Army Public Affairs office to get my marching orders for the next few months (a joke, guys. Lighten up), I decided to head outside and check out the Memorial. I stopped just outside the Memorial and watched the ten or so visitors inside for a few minutes.
As you walk into the Memorial, you notice immediately the layout of the grounds. There are 184 benches in the Memorial, one for each victim in the Pentagon attack. The field is organized as a timeline of the victimsâ€™ ages. So, as you walk in, the first bench you encounter is that of the youngest victim of the attack – Dana Falkenberg, who was just three years old when the plane she was on crashed violently into the west block of the Pentagon. She died along with her sister, Zoe, and her parents. Her name will forever be the first name you see when you enter the grounds. As you gaze into the water below the bench, you will notice the names of her family etched into the metal signifying family members that have their own bench throughout the Memorial grounds.
I sat down at the bench of ET3 Daniel M. Caballero. Caballero was born in Houston, Texas on November 21, 1979, to Andres and Carmen Caballero. He was known to his family as â€œDannyâ€ and to his shipmates as â€œCabby.â€ He had been stationed at the Pentagon less than two years when he was killed in that horrible act of terrorism. His name sits alone, meaning that he left family to deal with his loss. A purple stuffed animal and small American flag sit at the base of his bench, still vibrant, colorful, and clean as if they had just been laid there. His name is placed so that as you read it a panoramic view of the Pentagon’s new granite bricks are in view, signifying that Caballero died in the Pentagon.
The benches are all laid this way. If you can see the Pentagon while reading any of the 184 names, that individual died at the Pentagon. If you read the name and your back is to the Pentagon, staring in the direction from which the plane came, that individual died on the plane that crashed into the heavily fortified building. When I first arrive at about 1600, there are around 30-35 people milling about, some crying and some taking pictures with the Pentagon as a backdrop. Still others are seated on the surrounding walls staring blankly into space or at the ground. By the time I leave nearly an hour and a half later, there are approximately 60 people.
The Memorial is very graceful, elegant, and quiet considering its location between a busy highway and the largest office building in the country. The ground is covered by loose gravel that crunches with every step. There is a large blank section of the memorial where no benches exist. This represents the timeline between 1979 and 1990, signifying that no one born in the 80′s was killed in the Pentagon attack. As I take note of this, a man in his mid-30s in a white shirt and tan shorts passes by me, eyes red and tears streaming down his face. He’s trying to maintain his composure until he is at least out of site. If I were a Marine, I’d have given him a big hug.
I continue to walk through the memorial, taking note of many letters, flowers, stuffed animals, and mementos left behind by families, friends, or other visitors. When I reach the end, I realize some things. The first is that the five youngest people killed in the attack were on Flight 77 that crashed into the building; the oldest person killed was also on board. No teenagers died in the attack, but there is a large number of 20-somethings that did. More than one complete family was killed here.
The oldest person killed in the Pentagon attack is Retired Navy Captain John D. Yamnicky, Sr. He was 71 years old. John was a defense contractor for Veridian Corp. and was most likely returning to his home in Waldorf, MD from a business trip. He retired as a Naval aviator in 1979. He is now buried in section 64 of Arlington National Cemetery.
As I sit and look at John’s bench, I suddenly grow annoyed and irritated. Gazing into the many reflecting pools, I can’t help but notice that after being open for less than two weeks, they were already collecting algae. Many of the pools had a disappointing green tint to them and anger overcame me. I found it hard to believe that a similar Memorial built to honor the World Trade Center victims wouldn’t have been allowed to get so ugly so quickly. Thankfully, I was calmed when I later saw two gentlemen with brushes cleaning each reflecting pool. But, I was still annoyed.
A frustrating aspect of this Memorial is how difficult it has been to get the money to build and operate it. I mean, here we have a group of people that, let’s face it, gave their lives in service to this country and are treated as second class victims of the same crime. The money to build the WTC Memorial has already been collected. I don’t want to dishonor those that died in the WTC attacks, but if you ask me they’ve received far more funding and attention for what? Corporate greed and selfishness? While these people were working for minimal pay, crappy hours, a high cost of living, and ensuring the security of this country. See, I should have stopped when I gave myself the chance!
I see two women sitting together on a wall near some benches. Lois and Judy are from Nebraska and visiting DC to see the sites. Hearing that the Memorial had just opened, they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pay their respects. For these ladies, September 11, 2001 was a day like any other. Lois was on a business trip and Judy was at the hospital. I turned on my recorder and tried to capture their feelings about the Memorial, but I ended up playing tour guide, explaining the layout of the memorial and its significance. These wonderful Americans just wanted to take it all in and reflect. If they liked this, I told them, they should check out the Korean Memorial as well.
Being that I was still in my uniform, many people approached me about the Memorial. I would start the explanation of the Memorial to two people and finish to a crowd of about 15 or so as others overheard my explanation and gathered around. I even had an opportunity to explain how the Memorial was laid out to a Mexican family that didn’t speak English. Since I didn’t do so well on my last Spanish proficiency test, it was good practice.
Overall, I left the Memorial with a sense of pride. The architects and builders did a wonderful job. Prior to the Memorial being built, most people could only dream of getting so close to the great Pentagon walls. Now they can take their pictures with it behind them. I highly recommend that you put it at the top of your priorities list the next time (or first time) you visit DC.