By Timothy Dwyer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 16, 2006
A few hundred feet from the spot where American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and victims of the attack held a short and solemn groundbreaking ceremony yesterday for the Pentagon memorial.
Nearly five years after a private group began raising money for the memorial, about 450 people attended the invitation-only ceremony, including members of the Cabinet and Congress and 300 family members of victims and survivors of the attack.
They sat on plastic folding chairs in brilliant sunlight at the memorial site and listened to brief remarks from Rumsfeld and James J. Laychak, the president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund.
Rumsfeld thanked architects Keith Kaseman and Julie Beckman for their design and then said he wanted to speak directly to the family members and survivors.
"At some point in the future, most of you will return to this sacred ground," Rumsfeld said. " . . . As you reflect, you will be flooded with memories of your loss, to be sure, but also split-second images of love and laughter and joyous times. This memorial was meant for you, to offer some comfort."
About $10.8 million has been raised for construction of the memorial. The money has come from neighborhood lemonade sales and corporate and personal donations. The goal is to raise $22 million for construction, which is expected to be complete by September 2008, as well as an additional $10 million to maintain the memorial.
Before the ceremony, Laychak was invited by Rumsfeld to talk with Cabinet members about the fundraising. Laychak, whose brother David was killed in the attack, said he didn't want to be "crass" and ask Cabinet members for donations, so he asked them to use their influence instead.
"I said that if they wanted to ask for money, that would be great, but I asked them to ask people to take a meeting, to meet with me and members of the memorial fund and ask them to hear our story," Laychak said.
Shortly after the 2001 attacks, Congress authorized the defense secretary to create a memorial to be paid for with private donations. Although yesterday's ceremony was about the official beginning of construction, Laychak said he hopes the event will help generate donations to finance the project.
The memorial will have 184 cantilevered benches, one each in memory of the victims on the plane and in the building. Each bench will have a reflecting pool beneath it, and the 1.93-acre site will be shaded with about 80 paperbark maple trees, which were chosen because they keep their leaves late into the autumn.
Kaseman and Beckman, two New York architects whose design won a competition that had more than 1,000 entries from all over the world, sat next to D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and the congressional delegation.
"This is a big milestone, no doubt," Kaseman said. "One thing we are happy about is that a lot of the partners we have been working with are here. . . . This might be the first time that everyone is together."
The ceremony lasted less than 30 minutes. Rumsfeld and Laychak made brief remarks, and retired Navy Adm. Barry C. Black, a chaplain, offered a prayer in memory of those who died. At the conclusion, everyone stood and sang "God Bless America."
Each family member was given a red-white-and-blue ribbon and a button with the image of a flag draped over the Pentagon to wear on their shirts and blouses.
When the ceremony ended, Rumsfeld stayed behind. For about an hour, he stood in the bright sunlight, shaking hand after hand, autographing programs and taking pictures with family members. He stayed until every person who wanted a word with him got the opportunity.
"If there is anything these families felt," he said in a brief interview, "it's that we must not forget what took place. This is visible progress, and the memorial, when it is completed, is going to be a very special place. It is going to be about memories and reflections, to be sure. But it is going to be a place to think about today and tomorrow and the next day and the world."
The ceremony concluded with Rumsfeld and Rosemary Dillard, the vice president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund, unveiling an engraved piece of marble salvaged from the building after the attack. It will be placed at the entrance of the memorial when it is completed.
Dillard said she was thinking about her husband, Eddie, when she helped Rumsfeld remove the blue covering from the stone. He died on board Flight 77. Wednesday was their 20th wedding anniversary.