Arlington leaders capped a month of planting trees in tribute to victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon with a small ceremony yesterday among oaks and maples that will grow behind a high-rise off Columbia Pike.
A man and a woman whose spouses were among the 184 killed when hijackers slammed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon attended the brief memorial behind the Carlyle House. They said that the trees, in their beauty and just by being alive, were a poignant reminder of the loved ones they lost.
"To have a tree planted in my husband's memory means a lot," said Joyce Johnson of Burke, whose husband, Army Lt. Col. Dennis Johnson, 48, was working in the office of the deputy chief of staff for personnel when the plane crashed. "It's more than just fresh air, it's a way of life we shared." Johnson then helped shovel a final layer of soil around a newly planted willow oak on the small lawn behind the apartment building, approximately four miles from the Pentagon.
County parks and recreation workers and American Forests, a D.C.-based conservation group that donated the trees, planted a total of 368 red maples, willow oaks, tulip poplars, sycamores, Chinese elms and other saplings throughout Arlington in November. Two trees were planted in honor of each victim of the terrorist attack.
Half the trees will grow on public sites -- at elementary schools, community centers, fire stations, libraries. And Arlington leaders invited private citizens to join the tributes, a call that drew hundreds of volunteers to plant trees in their yards. Eleven trees were planted around Carlyle House, a large condominium building in the Columbia Forest neighborhood.
"It was quite a waiting list" of private homeowners, said Jamie Bartalon, landscape and forestry supervisor for the Arlington Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Resources. Homeowners and condominium associations agreed to water and maintain the trees.
The tree plantings were the first in a series of larger memorials underway in the Washington area to remember those killed in the attack on the Pentagon.
Congress has authorized a memorial on the Pentagon's west facade, next to the helicopter pad near where the American Airlines plane crashed, killing 125 people in the building and the 59 passengers and crew members on board.
Arlington is planning to build its own memorial, accompanied by a grove of trees planted along Route 50. An Arlington citizens committee recommended in July that the county's memorial be placed on a hill near the Navy Annex overlooking the Pentagon.
The land, however, is owned by the federal government and Virginia and has been planned as part of an expansion of Arlington National Cemetery. County officials said they hope pending legislation in Congress would result in a master plan for the cemetery that sets aside that land for the memorial.
But as the wind blew yesterday during an understated ceremony that drew fewer than 20 people, it was clear that healing can begin even with a small tribute.
"It's a living memorial, something living and breathing, providing shade and a home for the birds," said Bruce Serva of Stafford County, whose wife, Marian, 47, died Sept. 11, 2001. They were married 26 years.
Marian Serva worked in the Pentagon's congressional affairs office and loved to garden. Bruce Serva finds solace in knowing that a tree is helping preserve her memory.