WASHINGTON, June 9, 2006 - As another sign of progress toward establishing a lasting tribute to the 184 people killed at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, the start of on-site construction for the Pentagon Memorial will be marked with a June 15 ceremony here.
"I knew going into this that this would be more of a marathon rather than a sprint," said Jim Laychak, president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund. "The fact that we're here, at the groundbreaking, two and a half years from when we'll dedicate the memorial, shows that we're making progress and shows that this is real and this is going to happen."
Laychak said the June 15 ceremony will be important to the family members, because it's a sign of progress, but it will also be important to the community as a whole.
"It's not only about the families," he said. "It's about the people that were here in this building that was attacked. It's about anybody in Washington, D.C., or the community at large that witnessed what happened here, because this was our nation's military headquarters."
Laychak, whose brother David was killed at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, has been involved with the Pentagon Memorial planning since 2002, when the design competition for the memorial began. Laychak and other family members of victims were part of a "family steering committee" that provided input and guidance to the design selection process. After the design was selected, the family members formed the Pentagon Memorial Fund to raise money for the memorial.
"(Sept. 11) was just such a momentous event in our history that I kind of knew that they were going to do something," Laychak said. "It was just a matter of the process and how you go about doing it to make sure you have an appropriate memorial, and I think we followed a wonderful process."
The design competition for the memorial was anonymous and judged in a democratic fashion, Laychak said. The family members had input into the decision, along with a jury of architects and people from the Pentagon community, he said.
The winning design was chosen because it invited contemplation and created a comfortable, peaceful atmosphere, Laychak said.
"It makes you think without telling you what to think," he said. "It's an individual memorial; it's a collective memorial, because it's about all those people - really a cross section of America that died that day - and in a very subtle way, it tells the story about what happened here."
The memorial will be built on a two-acre site at the Pentagon, just outside the spot where terrorists crashed the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 into the building. The design includes 184 illuminated benches representing each of the victims killed, with lighted reflecting pools beneath each bench.
There will also be an "age wall" surrounding a perimeter bench around the memorial, which grows in height from two inches above the seating surface to 71 inches above the seating surface, to represent the victims' age range. The illuminated benches, which will each bear the name of a victim, will also be arranged by age and will follow the path of the plane into the building, said Keith Kaseman, one concept designer for the memorial.
"The question for us was, 'How do you make a place so special that it just provokes contemplation?'" Kaseman said. "When we first set out, we knew this place would be like no other."
Kaseman and Julie Beckman, who both moved here from New York City, created the design for the memorial, and are now working full time to make it a reality.
"Our role is to do whatever we can to ensure the quality level is the highest it can be," Kaseman said. "Our goal is to know there's a place that can help people heal."
The idea for the memorial came from Kaseman and Beckman's personal experiences on Sept. 11 in New York, Beckman said. The day was a surreal experience with lasting effects, she said.
"In the months after, living and working in New York, we really felt the sadness of the country," she said.
Beckman and Kaseman decided to enter the competition partly for themselves, and partly as a service to the country, Beckman said.
"We felt that this was a way to contribute to the conversation about how these people will be honored," she said. "It helped us to begin to solidify some feelings and emotions."
The victims' families have been involved with the design team all along, and have provided constructive input that helped the design come together, Beckman said. The construction start-up ceremony will be a proud moment for the families, she said, because it represents all their efforts coming together.
Beckman and Kaseman have been busy working with others on research and development of materials for the memorial, Beckman said. They are designing the memorial to last 100 years without maintenance, she said, so they are learning a lot about building materials.
To ensure the memorial is preserved for many years to come, the Pentagon Memorial Fund is aiming to raise $10 million beyond the $22 million building cost to establish a maintenance fund, Laychak said. So far, the fund has raised $10.8 million from an internal Pentagon employee fundraiser and public and private donations, he said.
In conjunction with continued progress on the memorial construction, Pentagon planners are working on this year's "America Supports You" Freedom Walks, another way the Defense Department is honoring the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. These will be held on Sept. 11 in Washington and other cities throughout the country. Last year's inaugural two-mile Freedom Walk began at a Pentagon parking lot and ended on the National Mall, adjacent to the World War II Memorial.
"The Freedom Walks are intended to remind Americans about those who lost their lives in the attacks on 9/11 and to show our appreciation for the men and women who serve our country on the front lines to protect our freedoms," said America Supports You spokeswoman Roxie Merritt.