Terry McLaughlin: 9/11 — 20 years later | TheUnion.com
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Terry McLaughlin: 9/11 — 20 years later

The deadly assaults that took place on Sept. 11, 2001, taking the lives of almost 3,000 people, shattered the nation’s sense of security.

While these memories bring back the image of the Twin Towers collapsing in New York, there were other attacks that occurred that morning which were just as catastrophic and devastating. One of those attacks was on the Pentagon, which has stood as a symbol of American power and influence to the nation and the world since World War II.

Ironically, construction of the Pentagon began on Sept. 11, 1941. Sixty years later, to the day, destiny brought the Pentagon together with American Airlines Flight 77. Five hijackers boarded the flight bound for Los Angeles from Washington Dulles Airport: Khalid al Midhar, Majed Moqed, Nawaf al Hazmi, Salem al Hazmi, and Hani Hanjour.



Although some of the men set off metal detector alarms, all were passed through the security checkpoints. When the plane lifted off at 8:20 a.m., 64 people were on board: six crewmembers and 58 passengers, including the five hijackers with their weapons, most likely small knives and box cutters.

At 9:37, a 62-year-old Pentagon employee was sitting in traffic west of the Pentagon when a jet passed so low overhead it clipped the radio antenna of the car behind him. The airplane sliced through three light poles in the Pentagon parking lot before slamming into the first floor of the building and exploding in a fireball, instantly killing 125 people inside the Pentagon along with all 64 passengers onboard the flight, including the five hijackers.




An estimated 800 people were working in the section, or the wedge of the Pentagon where the impact occurred. In an incredible stroke of luck, Wedge 1 had recently undergone a major renovation and only a fraction of the workers had moved back into their offices. Had the plane hit any other section of the building, as many as 4,500 Pentagon employees could have been in its path.

Of the 125 people killed inside the Pentagon, the Army incurred the greatest loss: 75 men and women. Beyond the Army offices in Wedge 1 was the newly opened Navy Command Center, which was tasked with keeping track of movements of Navy vessels and aircraft, monitoring significant international events, and keeping the chief of naval operations informed of important developments. All of the Navy’s losses that day occurred in the Command Center: 42 military and civilian dead, including three contractor employees.

Among the six crew members on the flight were a husband and wife pair of flight attendants.

Three teachers from the Washington area were on the plane with three 11-year-old students and two escorts from the National Geographic Society. They were on a field trip to the Channel Island Marine Sanctuary in California. One of the children was the son of a Navy petty officer on duty at the Pentagon that day.

A family of four, including two small children, as well as a honeymoon couple bound for Hawaii were among the victims.

Two passengers, William Caswell and Bryan Jack, were Department of Defense employees with offices at the Pentagon, who were flying on official business.

The National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, which sits on two acres right outside where the jetliner struck the building, was dedicated by President George W. Bush on Sept. 11, 2008, as “an everlasting tribute to the 184 souls who perished.” The Pentagon Memorial captures the exact moment, 9:37 a.m. Sept. 11, 2001, when these souls were lost.

One-hundred-eighty-four cantilevered benches made of stainless steel and inlaid with granite are organized in a timeline of their ages, from the youngest victim, 3-year-old Dana Falkenberg, to the oldest, 71-year-old John Yamnicky.

Each bench is inscribed with the victim’s name on the end, and arches over a shallow reflecting pool of water, lit from below. If more than one family member died in the crash, the name of each family member is inscribed in the pool, as well as on their individual bench.

The benches for the 59 jetliner passengers (omitting the five hijackers) are positioned so a visitor will face the sky when reading the victim’s name. The benches dedicated to victims inside the building reveal the victim’s name and the Pentagon in the same view.

The site also has a curved wall, aptly dubbed the Age Wall, which increases in height to represent the ages of the victims, beginning at 3 inches and growing to 71 inches. The architectural design was aimed at unifying the victims without regard to their status as man or woman, military or civilian, rich or poor.

Dozens of crepe myrtle trees surround the peaceful landscape, along with 85 paperbark maple trees clustered throughout the memorial, which provide a canopy of shade over the area.

Buried in Arlington Cemetery are 64 of those killed in the attack on the Pentagon. Also buried there is a casket containing the unidentified remains of victims presumed to be Dana Falkenberg, retired Col. Ronald Golinski, Navy Electronics Technician 1st Class Ronald Hemenway, James Lynch, and Rhonda Rasmussen.

Over the shared grave is a five-sided granite memorial on which the names of all 184 dead are inscribed in raised silver letters.

Twenty years later we honor the memory of all those lost on Sept. 11, 2001, always in our hearts, never to be forgotten.

Terry McLaughlin, who lives in Grass Valley, writes a twice monthly column for The Union. Write to her at terrymclaughlin2016@gmail.com.


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