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Posted at 11:10 AM ET, 06/20/2008

No Longer a Forbidden Place

When the nation's first major 9/11 memorial is dedicated on the grounds of the Pentagon's western side this September, it will change the iconic building into something it was not intended to be: a tourist destination.

Since the day the symbol of the country's military might was attacked nearly seven years ago, a great deal of effort has gone into further limiting public access to the site. It has been wrapped in barricades, elaborate security systems and signs prohibiting photography.

But just as the grief and sympathy that came after the Sept. 11 attacks eroded whatever psychological barrier existed between the public and the Pentagon, the memorial attempts to make that relationship a lasting physical reality. The Pentagon Memorial will allow the camera-wielding public free access 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Visitors will find a parklike open space that is intricately beautiful, meticulously crafted and almost entirely at odds with the monolith that serves as its backdrop.

By almost any measure, it is not a good location for a major attraction. The area is tangled with traffic during commuter hours. The public will be barred from parking near the site. And wayward tourists might find themselves in awkward encounters with officers of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency (PFPA), the hyper-vigilant security service that polices the Pentagon Reservation.

In short, said PFPA Director Steven E. Calvery, the Pentagon "was not designed to be a welcoming and nice place to visit, like the Mall."

But unlike the Washington region's other monuments and tourist attractions, the location for the Pentagon Memorial was not originally selected by a board of directors or an arts commission. It was picked by the five terrorists who hijacked a Boeing 757 on Sept. 11, 2001, and plowed it into the building at 530 mph. The family members of the 184 victims killed in the attack, and the many others who carry the scars of that day, wanted the memorial to be at the exact site of the crash. Their wishes prevailed.

Construction of the $32 million project, financed entirely by private donations, is moving into its final stages. When the site is dedicated Sept. 11 and opened to the public the next day, visitors will see a highly aesthetic space that offers a stark contrast to the building whose 125 fallen workers it honors, along with the 59 victims on the plane.

The Nation's First 9/11 Memorial »

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Posted at 11:04 AM ET, 06/20/2008

Families Find Solace In Pentagon Site

Jonathan Fisher walked slowly, searching for a name yesterday morning among the stainless steel benches laid out in perfect rows along the Pentagon's west wall.

Family Members Visit Pentagon Memorial »

His feet crunched on the gravel as he stepped around concrete basins and the pipes that will create pools of flowing water under each bench at the Pentagon Memorial. He bent to peer at the names etched on the benches. Then he spotted Gerald P. Fisher.

"I finally found it," he told his wife.

His father, known to friends and family as Geep, was a defense contractor for Booz Allen and Hamilton working at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. The Potomac man was among the 184 killed when terrorists flew a hijacked American Airlines jet into the building, passing directly over the spot where Jonathan Fisher now stood.

Fisher rubbed his hands slowly on the granite slab laid atop the steel bench. He sat on the bench, gingerly at first. Five feet away from him, a kneeling construction worker cut steel bolts with a power saw. But Fisher, lost in thought, seemed not to notice the racket.

"This is the place where my father died," said Fisher, 36, of McLean. "Seeing there is some place we can go to, a place to draw strength from, even though it's very upsetting to come to this place, it's very comforting."

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Posted at 10:54 AM ET, 06/20/2008

Forging a Lasting Tie to Pentagon Victims

PEVELY, Mo. -- The metal for Zoe and Dana Falkenberg was just under 3,000 degrees, glowing in heavy, black cauldrons that hung from the ceiling on cables and huge iron hooks. Workers at MetalTek International, a foundry 30 miles south of St. Louis, had finished the memorials for all the other victims, and they had saved those for the youngest, the two sisters, for last.

The girls and their parents were heading to Australia for a family vacation Sept. 11, 2001, when hijackers seized their plane and slammed it into the western side of the Pentagon at 530 mph. Zoe was 8 years old. Dana was 3.

When the nation's first 9/11 memorial opens at the Pentagon this Sept. 11, two long, curving, stainless steel benches engraved with the sisters' names will be among the first objects visitors see. There will be 184 memorial benches at the site, one for each of the 125 people killed in the building and the 59 who died on American Airlines Flight 77.

It was something of a milestone, then, for the small crowd that gathered in yellow hard hats and plastic goggles on the shop floor of MetalTek one recent morning to watch the sisters' benches forged side by side. Engineers and metallurgists stood with victims' family members as workers in protective suits and welder's masks streamed molten steel into special, sand-lined casts, from which sparks and jagged flames erupted.

Emotional Scene as Final Memorial Benches Take Form »

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Posted at 3:02 PM ET, 09/ 9/2007

Timeline: Building a Memorial

Relatives of the victims of the terrorist attack on the Pentagon toured the future site of the Pentagon Memorial Park for the first time in early-September. The scheduled opening of the memorial is still a year away, but much progress has been made over the last six years.

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