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Pentagon Unveils Memorial to 9/11 Victims

September 10, 2008 at 12:00 AM EDT
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The Pentagon will unveil a new memorial to Sept. 11 victims Thursday during a ceremony to mark the seventh anniversary of attacks. Kwame Holman reports on the memorial's road to completion and how family members of victims view the day.

KWAME HOLMAN: It’s an unusual site for a memorial, tucked away between a highway and the Pentagon building itself. Yet, for families and friends of the 184 people killed in the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon seven years ago, the memorial opening tomorrow is the perfect place and a long-sought refuge for quiet reflection.

Tom Heidenberger’s wife, Michele, was the senior flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 77 when it crashed into the Pentagon’s western wall.

TOM HEIDENBERGER, Husband of 9/11 victim: It allows me or affords me a place to go, other than a cemetery, to look at a memorial or tombstone. It allows me, at the same time, to come here to, in many respects, in a very nice, fond way, remember the 30 years that I had with Michele, remember our two children, at the same time, reflect, so to speak, on what happened that day.

KWAME HOLMAN: The memorial, located on two acres parallel to the deadly flight path, is understated, the bulk of it 184 cantilevered granite-covered benches, each etched with the name of one of the 59 people killed on board the plane or the other 125 who lost their lives at the Pentagon that day.

Beneath every bench, a small reflecting pool, which will be lit by night. The benches are organized along a timeline of the birth years of the victims, from youngest to oldest. Their arrangement indicates where the person died and is meant to tell the story of what happened that day.

The Pentagon 9/11 memorial was created by Julie Beckman and her husband, Keith Kaseman. Their design was chosen from among more than 1,000 considered.

JULIE BECKMAN, Memorial Co-Designer: The names are inscribed at the end of a cantilever, and when you read the name of an individual and the Pentagon is in the background of your view, that indicates that that person was in the Pentagon at the time of their death. Conversely, like in this unit here, when you read their name at the end of the cantilever, and you see the sky in the background, that means they were on board Flight 77.

KWAME HOLMAN: Kaseman says the various elements — benches, water pools, paperbark maple trees, and larger perimeter bench — together were meant to create a tone.

KEITH KASEMAN, Memorial Co-Designer: Ultimately, that was the bottom line, was that this is an invitation for contemplative thought and interpretation. So, all those elements add up to this — to this quiet place.

Minimalist design elicits thought

Tom Heidenberger
Husband of 9/11 victim
We want something better to come out of that ugly day. And, if you look at this park, at this memorial, as beautiful as it is on this overcast day, it tells a story.

KWAME HOLMAN: On the day we visited, Tom Heidenberger and others agreed.

TOM HEIDENBERGER: We want something better to come out of that ugly day. And, if you look at this park, at this memorial, as beautiful as it is on this overcast day, it tells a story. You hear the rushing of the water. You hear the peacefulness.

And the idea is to have something positive come out of the ugliness and the horrificness of that day. And, if you look about you, I think we have been successful. And Michele, most likely, is sitting here with me right now, saying, you know, job well done.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Pentagon 9/11 memorial is the first to be completed. Efforts still are under way at ground zero in New York and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Unlike the World Trade Center site, here, there were no business or legal obstacles to hold back development. The Pentagon memorial's designers and committees needed to deal with only one major player: the Department of Defense.

JIM LAYCHAK, President, Pentagon Memorial Fund: There was no question that the Pentagon was going to be rebuilt, and it was rebuilt in a year or so. We had a lot of different things going for us.

KWAME HOLMAN: Jim Laychak heads the Pentagon Memorial Fund, which raised most of the more than $20 million cost of the project through individual and corporate donations. Federal funds made up a small percentage.

The name of Laychak's brother David is on one of the memorial's benches.

JIM LAYCHAK: As one family member put it, the site was chosen that day, you know, because it's right near the impact site. We also knew that we couldn't have any kind of enclosed space, because you're right next to the building -- or to the Pentagon, so those two things, I believe, helped drive the simplicity of it.

KWAME HOLMAN: Throughout the design process, the architects consulted with family members, such as Laychak and Heidenberger.

JULIE BECKMAN: It was their idea to have a memorial. They selected the spot for it. We -- we brought them in on certain design decisions, where we were happy with one way or the other, but we really wanted them to have a say in -- in the final decision.

JIM LAYCHAK: I think that a lot of family members said that -- I have felt it -- that, as you walk in this place, you lose yourself in it and you kind of make a connection, you know, with the people that -- that have died. So, I think that's what makes this place special.

TOM HEIDENBERGER: Fortunately, today, it's overcast. But, on days like yesterday, crystal clear, crisp, blue, I'm always reminded of that day.

You will never get over it. You will never forget. It's all a function of coping and managing it. And, as Michele always said, life is for the living. Surviving is for the living.

KWAME HOLMAN: The president and the current and former secretaries of defense are to help dedicate the memorial on the seventh anniversary of the attacks. It opens to the public tomorrow night, and will remain open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.