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Ground Broken for Pentagon 9-11 Memorial

Article - Thursday, June 15, 2006

MARGARET HAIR

Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service


WASHINGTON - A groundbreaking ceremony for the Pentagon Memorial on Thursday marked a positive outcome from a tragic day, said James Laychak, president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund.

The memorial, which is tentatively scheduled for completion in September 2008, will be in memory of the 184 lives lost when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the monument would remind its visitors that everyone of the lives lost was special, with hopes for the future cut short.

"They (the victims) had different lives and different dreams, and they shared a tragic destiny," Rumsfeld said.

When completed, the Pentagon Memorial park, on the west side of the building, will be home to 184 individual memorial units, each dedicated to a victim and inscribed with his or her name.

The units - cantilevered benches with a glowing light pool under each - will be organized by the victims' ages, and oriented according to whether they were among the 59 who died aboard Flight 77 or the 125 who lost their lives in the Pentagon.

The design, which was chosen through a worldwide competition that began in June 2002, is the creation of Keith Kaseman and Julie Beckman of New York.

Rumsfeld, who thanked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other Cabinet members and congressmen for their presence, said the memorial was meant for the families and friends who lost loved ones in the crash.

"We have talked over the years, and now you will know that we will never forget," he said.

That message appealed to people like Andrea Doctor, who was among the family members in attendance. Her husband, Johnnie, 32, died inside the Pentagon.

The monument, she said, gives a sense of closure and the assurance that her husband will not be forgotten.

"People will be able to come out here for centuries and see the people and the lives that were lost out here," Doctor said. "It truly means that no one will ever forget."

And that's the purpose of the Pentagon Memorial marker, which was unveiled Thursday. It reads:

"We claim this ground in memory of the events of September 11, 2001. To honor the 184 people whose lives were lost, their families, and all those who sacrifice that we may live in freedom."

And on a separate line:

"We will never forget."

Planning for the site began in October 2001, and the winning design was chosen in March 2003. Since then, it has been in fundraising and pre-construction stages.

With completion in sight, loved ones of those lost gathered in celebration and remembrance.

"It's an honor, it's a pleasure, it's long overdue," said John Dillaber, whose sister, Patricia Mickley, was working inside the Pentagon for the Defense Intelligence Agency when she died.

"I'm just so pleased that people are going to come from all over the world to sit on a bench with my sister's name on it," he said. Still, Dillaber said if there were anything he could want, it would be for the memorial to not have a need to exist.

"I would rather be able to trade places with her," he said of Mickley, who was 42 and had a 5-year-old daughter.

"She had her whole life ahead of her."

Laychak, the president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund who lost his brother in the Pentagon, said that each person who visits the memorial will take away something different and that those memories would become the essence of the monument's hallowed ground.

Laychak said that although a significant amount of money already has been contributed toward the project's estimated $32 million fundraising goal, the job is not done.

But by participating in the groundbreaking ceremony, he said all those present made a commitment to finish what has been started.

"We will be successful," he said. "We owe it to our loved ones. We owe it to everyone who witnessed what happened that day."

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