The Pentagon Memorial, dedicated today, came together when a group of dedicated people worked hard to create a place of remembrance. It augments a very simple and poignant reminder of the crash of American Airlines 77; there’s one block of the Pentagon’s limestone facade that still bears the soot and grime of the event, with a simple inscription of “September 11, 2001.”
The new memorial matches that simplicity, noting those who perished on the plane as well as those in the building. The design, which incorporates the ages of the 184 victims, recognizes the gravity of the event as a whole, but also the personal toll, life by life.
As someone who’s written annually about Sept. 11 and the commemorations associated with it, I can’t praise enough the work of those who brought the Pentagon Memorial from concept to concrete reality. However, there’s still a problem remaining as we mark the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
Actually, there are two. One is in the fields near Shanksville, Pa., and the other sits in lower Manhattan. The crash sites of United 93, American 11 and United 175 draw those seeking to pay respects, but the locations remain essentially empty.
Every Sept. 11, the stories run again about the difficulty of building the monuments, the money needed, the concern to “do it right,” the drive to have things done by the fill-in-the-blank anniversary. Maybe next year, we can save the effort and just pick an article from three years ago and run that.
Yes, erecting a memorial isn’t easy. It also takes time and money. In the case of the New York and Pennsylvania sites, however, it seems that all the concern lies with ever detail but one: us.
Sept. 11 wasn’t a long event from long ago, such as a war. Nor is it a dedication to a famous figure. That day was the nation’s trauma, played out in real time on the streets of our two major cities and viewed live on tens of millions of television sets. We experienced, as it happened, the crashes, the fires, the grief as a national landmark burned and two buildings fell, taking along scores of anxious, desperate people.
People just like us. We all suffered the shock, the pain, the loss. Those monuments represent the places where we can offer our respects, share our grief, mourn the dead and renew our spirit.
The immediacy and communal participation of the tragedy of Sept. 11 changes the traditional notion of memorials. The process needs a schedule measured more by the clock than the calendar. It needs symbols beyond an empty pasture and a cavity in a skyline. And, it needs a drive beyond what’s current on track.
I will forever be haunted by Sept. 11. What happened that day changed my life, as it did for millions of others. My own memorial is a U.S. flag that hangs outside my front door, 24/; I’ve went through four or five flags and several lamps to illuminate the stars and stripes during darkness.
I’d only hope that others see the light as well, and realize that 2011 isn’t the deadline in Pennsylvania and New York. We’re already past due.
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