One of my favorite places in metro D.C. is the Pentagon Memorial. It is so thoughtfully constructed to help visitors understand exactly what happened on the morning of September 11, 2001—it also does an excellent job honoring the victims individually and collectively. Nestled between Rt 27 and the west side of the Pentagon, it is open 24 hours a day. I drove past it countless times during the day when we lived in VA, but it is best seen at night, I think.
The memorial is designed to mark the incoming path of Flight 77. It is hard to comprehend how close together everything is until you've lived here—the Pentagon does not sit up on a hill apart from the rest of the world, nor do the roads in this corner of Arlington feel particularly big. To get to the Pentagon from where we lived in Arlington was simple: get on Columbia Pike at the top of our neighborhood and drive straight until you practically dead-end into the parking lot. Maddie's bus drove on Columbia Pike near Rt 27 every day; I shudder to think about that plane flying overhead if she had been on a bus that day, because it would have been close enough to experience everything from out the bus window. She still doesn't know what happened. We made the decision not to tell her while Matt worked at the Pentagon, though it's probably time now. It won't be hard for her to picture some of the details of that day when we do, because she knows the Sheraton that got clipped by the plane, the Navy Annex just next to the farthest bus stop on her route, the downward slope of Columbia Pike meeting 27—she rode past/through/on it twice a day for the last two years.
Each person who died that day has a bench with his or her name on it. The ones pointing toward the Pentagon were on the plane; the ones pointed away were inside the Pentagon. Each row of benches represents a birth year. The youngest person on the plane, Dana Falkenberg, was born in 1988, and her bench sits alone, slightly apart from the rest. (There is a space for each year, but not every year has a bench—for example, no one on the plane or in the Pentagon that died that day was born in 1972, so there is a little space between the benches there). If the victim was with others that day, their names are engraved on the bench—so Dana's family is with her, even though their benches are not together. The oldest person, retired Navy Capt John Yamnicky Sr, was born in 1930. His bench is the farthest from the entrance.
The feature that is lost to drivers-by is the pool of lighted, circulating water underneath each bench—all 184 of them. Because of the gravel at the memorial, a lot of little pebbles get inside those pools every day as visitors walk through. They are cleaned out every single night. They will continue to be cleaned out every single night. This simple act of maintenance really touched me when I saw the men fishing out little rocks and debris the first time I was there at night. I was similarly touched by this article that appeared in the Washington Post, about Iraqi-American Abe Yousif, owner of Buchtel Metal Finishing Corp. in Illinois. (Original source of the article is no longer available but I found it on this regional site). His company crafted each bench. It is well worth the time to read it.
In addition to the outdoor memorial, I was brought to tears when I first saw some of the Pentagon Quilts hanging inside the Pentagon along the corridors leading to the point of impact. Over 100 quilts were created and sent, unsolicited, to the Pentagon from organizations and schools across the country after September 11. To see these quilts hanging in the Pentagon, heart of the U.S. military, left me speechless. And very, very proud of my country.
I fell in love with metro D.C. long before I lived there; it's places like this—where so much care has been taken to tell part of the story of our country—that I love best. The opportunity to live there for two years only made me more sure that while I like New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, or Denver, D.C. will forever be my city.