By Tom Squitieri
WASHINGTON — Almost every night, the lucky few who walked astride LBJ Memorial Gardens on the Pentagon side of the Potomac River dance in a view that never got old: the city lights of the nation’s capital, washing in pride and honor the monuments and memorials to Lincoln, Washington, and Jefferson.
Except for this night. This night, it was the view the other way across the river, from the darkened monuments looking silently toward the Pentagon as angry flames still snarling into the sky mocked and scorched the sky.
Twenty years later, the damaged building has been long repaired, as the physical destruction to the Pentagon was rebuilt in less than a year. The military mission that started with resounding success has limped to a tepid summation as opposed to victory. The Pentagon building — whose construction began on September 11, 1941 — appears to have returned in full.
Yet now there is a hallowed hallway of quilts commemorating the attack line one of those rebuilt hallways. Outside in a breathtaking memorial, where those murdered are honored, each with a cantilevered bench, a lighted pool of flowing water and a permanent tribute by name, arranged by age — spanning from the youngest victim, 3-year-old Dana Falkenberg, who was onboard Flight 77, to the eldest, JohnYamnicky, 71, a Navy veteran, also on the flight that morning. Each memorial bench is made of stainless steel, inlaid with granite.
As noted by the Pentagon: the memorial units are situated to distinguish those who were inside the Pentagon from those who were on board Flight 77. At the 125 memorials honoring the victims inside the Pentagon, visitors see the victim’s name and the Pentagon in the same view. At the memorials honoring the 59 lives lost on the flight, visitors see the victim’s name and the direction of the plane’s approach in the same view.
“We still work here. We still remember here. We still uphold our values here. With clear heads and fearless hearts,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during Saturday’s ceremonies at the Pentagon.
The Pentagon began the day with bagpipers waking up the dawn until 6:45 a.m. when the U.S. flag was unfurled down the side of the building, which was lit up in “sky blue.” Names of the 184 fallen were read aloud, as their photos were shown on screens, then honored with the ring of a bell.
As sunset came, the flag is pulled up and put away. All through the morning, the roar of aircraft leaving nearby National Airport rose past the Pentagon, something that still creates shivers for many.
And then later, at 9:37 a.m., a moment of silence was observed for when American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the west face of the Pentagon. And then taps, into the same blue and cloudless sky, just like it had been that morning exactly 20 years ago.
“We know that you bear your losses not just at times of ceremony,” Austin said, “but also in ordinary moments of absence.”