For Pentagon Memorial, the Power of Touch

By Timothy Dwyer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 1, 2007

For more than five years, relatives of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon have been meeting each month to track the progress of their mission: creating a place to memorialize their loved ones.

They have seen the project evolve from just words and wishes to an international design competition, then to a major fundraising effort ranging from neighborhood lemonade stands to corporate boardroom pitches. Now, it finally seems real.

"I mean, it is just gorgeous," said Rosemary Dillard, one of several family members who gathered yesterday at the crash site to look at the first mock-up of one of the memorial benches and a reflecting pool.

"To have been here for the five years that the families have been working on this and see this go from nothing to this is overwhelming," said Dillard, vice president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund. "Every time I think about it, the number of times I have cried about it, the number of times I have looked for strength, and now to see it just the way we wanted it to be, I can't even put it into words."

The prototype will be formally introduced to the public today at a news conference. The memorial is scheduled to be completed in September 2008.

Abraham M. Scott was there, too. He had his first look at the mock-up late last month when it was completed. Other family members saw it for the first time Friday. "It was very emotional," Scott said. "To me, it is similar to when I gave my life to Christ the Lord. I had goose bumps."

The memorial will include 184 benches, one for each person killed. The cantilevered benches rise out of individual pools of water, and each one will be engraved with the name of a victim. Water circulates through the pool, creating not only a visual sense of movement but the sound of water, like a small brook.

"I am mesmerized by the water," Lisa Dolan said. "When I first saw the memorial, I was truly amazed. For the first time in five years, it was real, it was tangible. I could feel it and touch it and feel the engraving where the name of my husband will be." Dolan's husband, U.S. Navy Capt. Robert E. Dolan Jr., was killed in the Pentagon.

She paused for a moment and listened to the gentle sound of the water. "I am listening to this and I can't imagine the sound of 184 of them," she said. "It is going to be like 184 living, breathing memorial units."

The cost of construction is $22 million, and another $10 million is needed for an endowment to maintain the site. James J. Laychak, president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund, whose brother David died in the Pentagon, said that about $13 million has been raised so far.

Construction has started on the south side of the Pentagon. The mock-up displayed to the families has to undergo more testing before the 184 units can be constructed.

Many of the relatives of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks feel that the south side of the Pentagon is spiritual ground, a place where their loved ones in some sense remain. So the memorial will be a place to go and be with them and help fill a void in their lives.

"We will have a place to go," said Dillard, whose husband, Eddie, was on American Airlines Flight 77. "We will have something that you can touch, something that you can sit on and reflect, something that will just touch your heart because you will want to rub it and feel it and sit there and be able to see the sky. I think it is just one of the most memorable things you can do, just sit on a bench that has my husband's name on it."

The memorial was designed by Keith Kaseman and Julie Beckman, the architects who won a worldwide design contest. They married last year and live in Philadelphia, teaching architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and commuting to Washington each week to work on the memorial.

Beckman said yesterday that the mock-up looked and worked just as they had first imagined it when they made some rough sketches while sitting in a small Italian restaurant near their Upper West Side apartment in New York.

"It's funny because, as the designers, we are super in tune to the little details of it," she said. "It wasn't just that the water was running, but how the water was running."

For Scott and the other family members, there were times when they grew impatient with the process -- including money not being raised as quickly as they had dreamed, which slowed progress.

But yesterday Scott, whose wife, Janice, a civilian budget officer, was killed in the Pentagon, stood beside the mock-up and said he now wants the process to slow down a bit. He is afraid that September 2008 will come too fast, and that means that there will be no more monthly meetings with people who have gone from being strangers in grief to life-long friends.

"I don't want this phase to be completed quickly, because interacting with family members and participating in occasions like this, it keeps my spirit alive," he said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company