Pentagon 9-11 Memorial Dedication: Thoughtful thoughts

Most writers and journalists rushed to file their stories and photos yesterday while the fire was still hot, and readers or viewers were being inundated by September 11-related stories.

However, I decided to wait till today to share my thoughts. I figured the several-hour delay would allow my mixture of emotions and thoughts to congeal into a nice “soup”, which I could offer up today to the masses–the same people who may have already moved on to other fare offered by the commercial news outlets; the impending hurricane, political candidates, and the latest on Britney’s musical comeback, to name a few.

Too bad.

I say this because the observances, commemorations, and dedications which took place yesterday across the nation and throughout the world, should never be relegated to a “news spot” or a tagline.

The thousands who perished during the attacks of September 11, 2001, and indeed the thousands more in uniform who paid the ultimate sacrifice defending our freedoms before and after that infamous date deserve more. Much more.

Former Defense Secretary, Don Rumsfeld, speaking at the Pentagon’s 9/11 Memorial said it best: “… Never forget how this long struggle began and never forget those who fell first.”

While the 184 souls who perished in the attack on the Pentagon are forever immortalized in a simple yet elegant memorial of natural and man-made materials fronting the very building where American Airlines Flight 77 pierced the rings of this country’s most important seat of military might, other memorials remain unfinished.

There is still a temporary memorial dedicated to those who died in a cornfield in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, when Flight 93 crashed there. It was erected mostly by visitors and local residents, while the Flight 93 National Memorial Advisory Commission, formed in 2003, continues to develop a permanent memorial.

At the World Trade Center site, where more than 3,000 people died seven years ago, nothing exists except for what Manhattan residents and the New York Times refer to as “The Hole“. Construction delays on the new World Trade Center building has gone through several revisions, and the plans for an on-site memorial moves slowly, while other commissions and panels debate the breadth and scope of the memorial and its cost.

So the Pentagon’s Memorial will have to serve as the first–and for now, only–permanent place of solace and remembrance for a nation which still longs for healing. The reason we build memorials is not for the dead–they are so the living can find peace and hope–which is intrinsically linked to healing our collective wounds. The key being to heal, but not forget.

At this memorial, in the shadow of the newly-refurbished Pentagon, are 184 polished steel benches. In and amongst the maple trees, the benches are arranged on a gravel field, each with their own lighted reflecting pool, and inscribed with a name of each of the victims who perished in the attack there seven years ago. This place will stand with the many other national monuments of our nation’s capital as yet another testiment to sacrifices laid down by Americans.

This memorial may serve as a place where survivors and family members from far and wide may visit to heal. I hope in due time the other memorials are built to help a nation heal, and to provide their citizens with a place of solace and hope. And healing.

Kudos to the Pentagon Memorial Fund, for their decisive action and thoughtful consideration, and to its Chairman, James J. Laychak, who lost dear friends and his older brother, David W. Laychak, in the attack on the Pentagon. Maybe their accomplishment will serve as an example for other groups to follow.

And to those Americans who have turned their attention back to the 2008 political campaign, or to rising gas prices as a result of Hurricane Ike, or Jessica Simpson’s new country music career, please don’t forget the gravity of each and every September 11 anniversary. It is a chance for our nation to remember, to heal and to grow.

In his closing remarks yesterday, Adm. Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “The spirit of those who perished here live on, in us.”

I’d like to think that the “us” he was referring to was all of us.

Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy,
New Media NCOIC, Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs