WASHINGTON — Shadowy dusk of sunset ending a day seemed an atmospherically appropriate, somber time to visit a site memorializing 184 instant deaths on Sept. 11, 2001.
A cold wintry wind whipped across the 1.93 acre-outdoor location in Arlington, Va., southwest of the Pentagon where, at 9:37 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77 hijacked by terrorists was deliberately crashed into the Pentagon, killing everyone aboard as well as others inside and near the building.
Seven years later, the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial designed by architects Julie Beckman and Keith Kaseman, with engineer Buro Happold, at a cost of approximately $22 million, including $1 million from the government of Taiwan, opened to the public.
Taking Metro to the Pentagon is easier because parking anywhere in D.C. is always challenging.
The memorial’s website advises that the memorial is open 24/7 and support staff is on hand 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. It also advises that “guided tours are not offered. The memorial is to be experienced on a personal level.”
Indeed, as we wandered around, meeting impromptu with a British tourist couple, we did not see anyone else.
We were unable to locate the America’s Heroes Memorial and chapel, which includes “a book of photographs and biographies of the victims” and other exhibits.
A “state-of-the-art” visitor education center is in planning stages, as are walking audio tours, according to the website.
A VEC will help because the memorial’s design is “highly specific and qualitatively objective organizational strategy.” One could wander unaware amid the 184 illuminated cantilevered benches over individual pools of lighted water and 85 nascent paperback Maple trees with a 2,100-foot perimeter of waving decorative grass; meditating on each one who died.
Alternatively, a thorough study of online explanatory materials reveals the site’s arrangement as intellectually complex.
The perimeter “Age Wall, begins at 3 inches, the age of the youngest victim; rising to 71 inches, the age of the oldest victim. If more than one family member died, names are listed in the reflecting pool under a bench, in addition to the separate benches that have been created for each individual, which are positioned both by age and in a pattern replicating the trajectory the fatal flight took toward the Pentagon.
“Cast steel benches for the 59 victims on board the plane are arranged so that readers of the name on the bench will face the sky where the plane was coming from.
“The 125 benches for victims inside the Pentagon face the opposite direction, so someone reading those names will look up to see the Pentagon’s South facade where the jet impacted the building,” according to printed materials.
“The benches’ structural cross-section ... reflects radiant light from the glowing pool of water onto the surrounding gravel field. Trees are clustered in conjunction with the disbursement of memorial units (benches),” the website explains.
The main marker reads in dedication: “We claim this ground in remembrance of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, to honor the 184 people whose lives were lost, their families and all those who sacrifice that we may live in freedom. We will never forget.”