A Long-Awaited Opening, Bringing Closure to Many

The Pentagon Memorial, which honors the 184 people killed in the Sept., 11, 2001 terrorist attacks at the Pentagon, is dedicated by President Bush. Video by Whitney Shefte and Akira Hakuta/washingtonpost.com
By Nick Miroff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 12, 2008

Surely no one who had seen the Pentagon burning seven years ago could have envisioned the scene that unfolded there yesterday.

When the dedication ceremony for the Pentagon Memorial ended about 10:30 a.m. and the dignitaries had left in their motorcades, the families of Sept. 11 victims began filing into the park, searching for the steel-and-granite memorial benches with the names of their loved ones. They carried flowers, balloons and photographs, and soon a festive, almost celebratory mood began to take hold among a group long accustomed to spending the day in sadness.

It was the children who set the tone, really, treating the austere objects like playground equipment rather than representations of the dead. They ran among the rows of benches, playing with the water in the pools below and sliding down their smooth, arcing outlines, a stone's throw from the spot where American Airlines Flight 77 tore into the western side of the Pentagon seven years ago, killing 184.

Dean Taylor wasn't going to stop his children. He stood by as his adopted sons Dean, 8, and Luke, 6, climbed on the granite surface of their dead father's bench, digging in the nearby gravel with their hands and dipping them in the water coursing beneath it. They had already met the president and sat patiently through the 2 1/2 -hour dedication ceremony.

Now they were at the bench for Army Lt. Col. Kip Paul Taylor, Dean Taylor's younger brother, a man the boys were too young to remember. His death was the first of two hard truths they have had to face in their short lives, Taylor explained.

Two years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the boys' mother, Nancy Taylor, died of cancer, and Dean Taylor and his wife, Donna, adopted their nephews. The couple did not try to hide the truth about their biological parents from the boys, Taylor said, and the memorial site would help them come to terms with it.

"This will bring another level of closure for them," he said, looking around the site at the other families with children playing nearby. "It helps them close the gap. It's a place they can always come back to, even long after we're gone."

Later, when the public was allowed to enter the park, Luis Acosta led his daughter Grace, 9, and son Alexander, 7, from bench to bench, wall to wall.

"They have a brother in the Middle East," said Acosta, 52, of Millersville, Md. "This is significant. It gives reason as to why he is over there."

The two-acre site is the nation's first major permanent Sept. 11 memorial, its 184 benches honoring each of the victims. Understated in its design, the site aims to tell the story of what happened Sept. 11 in symbolism, not words. Its benches are aligned along the path of Flight 77 and organized along a timeline.

They span from the youngest victim, 3-year-old Dana Falkenberg, to John D. Yamnicky Sr., 71, who was honored during the dedication, having survived two wars and five crashes as a Navy pilot, only to die as a passenger on Flight 77 when it hit the building where he worked.

Many of the families arrived at the Pentagon just after sunrise, in time for an 8 a.m. dedication ceremony held in the parking lot between the Pentagon and Interstate 395. A crowd of almost 20,000 invited guests filled bleachers and chairs that faced the memorial and a large stage with huge video monitors. In the background, a single three-story flag hung from the roof of the Pentagon as it did during the weeks and months after Sept. 11.

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