Final Stone Placed in Pentagon's Exterior

Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 12, 2002

A charred block of limestone and a steel time capsule remembering lives lost were set in the outer wall of the Pentagon yesterday, completing all exterior reconstruction work at the building nine months after the attack that killed 189 people.

Marking the passage of three-quarters of a year since the Sept. 11 attack with a simple ceremony, Pentagon officials said the reconstruction project remains ahead of schedule and more than $ 200 million below cost. Officials also announced a design competition for a Pentagon memorial on two acres adjacent to where the plane struck the building, a site that is now a staging area for construction crews.

At the morning ceremony, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz supervised as a crane placed the last of 3,996 limestone slabs used in repairing the damaged west facade of the Pentagon.

"You've healed this wall, and in doing so, you are helping to heal our nation," Wolfowitz told cheering workers in construction helmets, who formed a semicircle around the building or stood on the crane or atop building supplies to watch the ceremony.

Carved on the stone, still blackened by fire from the attack, is a simple inscription: "September 11, 2001." Its dark face made a dramatic contrast to the bright new limestone, sent from the Indiana quarry that provided the original Pentagon facade.

"I was personally kind of shocked when I first saw it," W. Lee Evey, the Pentagon renovation manager, said yesterday. "I'd forgotten how dark and damaged the building was."

Behind the block, a steel time capsule was placed and sealed in the building, with no intention that it ever be opened. Inside were letters and cards sent to the Pentagon by children, a signed copy of President Bush's Sept. 20 speech declaring war on terrorism, and a bronze box with the names of 184 people killed Sept. 11 aboard the hijacked American Airlines jet or in the Pentagon. The names of the five hijackers were not included.

Many workers lined up in front of the charred limestone to pose for pictures holding the time capsule before it was sealed in the building.

Despite the buoyant mood, many agreed it was too soon to celebrate. "We're not quite there yet," said Brian Smith, a quality assurance manager on the reconstruction project. "When we have people in there, we'll feel a lot better. But it felt good to see that last stone go in."

Nearby, a red digital clock on a sign counted down the time left until the anniversary of the moment the jet struck the Pentagon: 91 days, 22 hours, 59 minutes and 32 seconds.

By then, Pentagon officials promise, employees will be working at their desks in the area closest to where the jet struck. Reoccupying all the damaged areas will take several months more, Evey said. Already, about 2,000 workers have moved back into offices damaged by smoke and water.

"Keeping rolling, that's all we're doing," said John Conrad, a telecommunications worker from Odenton. "Trying to get it done."

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