Public Honors 9/11 Fallen at Pentagon
Saturday, September 9, 2006; 8:17 PM
WASHINGTON -- A solemn marker outside the Pentagon conveys a simple message: "We will never forget."
True words, judging by the lines of people _ from all corners of the country, even the globe _ who took time on a sun-splashed weekend to honor the 184 people who perished when a hijacked jetliner slammed into this symbol of American military.
"We are here for a happy occasion. But we have to remember the sad occasions in our country's history also," said Pam Gambacorta of Buffalo, N.Y., who was in town for a wedding. She was one of the first in line for the walk-in tours, only the second available to the general public since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
More than 1,000 people took the tour that began outside the building, where American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the side, and continued inside to a chapel and memorial. Reconstruction has made the impact point impossible to detect.
Ethan and Debbie Fleischman of Cincinnati made the memorial tour their first stop in Washington. While it lasted only about 15 minutes, they said they came away with lasting memories of the building and of the others who came to pay tribute.
"They didn't forget their country," Ethan said, nodding toward the crowd. "It really touches the heart."
If not for the military guides pointing to where the plane struck, few visitors would have known exactly where it hit. The rebuilt wall includes just a couple of vivid reminders of that day. The first is a stone charred by burning jet fuel that reads "September 11, 2001."
About 50 feet to the left of the stone, between the second and third floors, is where the hijacked jet struck. Just to the right of the stone is a majestic American flag that resembles the one that firefighters draped over the southwest wall during rescue efforts.
Inside the building is a simple memorial room and chapel. Black panels in the room contain the names of all who died in the attack. The words "America's Heroes" separate the panels.
The adjacent chapel contains stained-glass windows, and 184 rose chips encircling the flag, an eagle and the Pentagon. The rose chips represent each victim of the attack.
Just outside the building, a 2-acre memorial park is under construction. The park will feature benches set over small reflecting pools commemorating each of the victims.
Among those on the tour was Vietnam War veteran Bob Oldham of Lawrence, Ind., who was town for a reunion. Asked why he was compelled to visit the memorial, he pointed to his ring, which commemorates his service in the Marines.
"It's kind of a brotherhood issue, really," he said.
Also taking in the site was a group of 25 to 30 people protesting the war in Iraq. Geoffrey Millard, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, said the Bush administration uses the Sept. 11 attacks to justify the war. The group wanted to show that there are people who disagree.
"9/11 had nothing to do with Iraq," Millard said.
From Fulda, Germany, came Werner Gutermuth to see the memorial.
"There's no difference in countries," he said. "No matter where it happens, it hurts."
Parents brought children along in hopes that it would provide them with an important lesson. Steven Allison of Asheville, N.C., took his son, Jesse, whose T-shirt read: "We will win."
"This was a real dark moment in history, an important point in history," Allison said. "And to be here on the anniversary was an important opportunity for him."
For the most part, those who visited the Pentagon had no personal connection to the Sept. 11 victims there. It did not seem to matter.
Renee Kelly of Marlboro, Md., who was with her son Justin, was asked whether she knew any of the victims. With tears running down her face, she said, "We didn't have to know anybody."
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