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Groundbreaking Ceremony Marks Start of Work on Pentagon 9/11 Memorial

Family members of 9/11 victims gathered with American officials at the Pentagon this week for a groundbreaking ceremony marking the beginning of construction on a 9/11 memorial. The memorial park will honor the 184 victims of the crash of American Airlines Flight 77 at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

Fifty-nine passengers and crew aboard Flight 77 -- and 125 military and civilian workers inside the Pentagon -- were killed when terrorists flew the plane into the building outside Washington, D.C. on September 11. U.S. officials and family members of many of the dead gathered at the Pentagon to observe the formal start of work on a memorial.

“It’s a bittersweet day, but it is a wonderful day,” said Lisa Dolan, who lost her husband, Navy Captain Robert Dolan. “We are finally beginning the memorial that will help us remember the 184 victims who were here at the Pentagon. It’s not just for us, the family members, it’s for the world,” she said. Memorial Fund president James J. Laychak, whose brother died in the attack, opened the ceremonies on the west side of the Pentagon a few meters from the crash site, saying, “Today is a day to cherish. Today is a positive outcome from a tragic day.”

The Pentagon memorial park will have 184 steel benches projected over individual reflecting pools, sheltered by dozens of maple trees. Arranged in a timeline from the youngest victim to the oldest, each bench will be inscribed with the name of one of the dead. “It will not be long before a new monument stands on this side of the Potomac, a monument to the 184 who died so close to this spot,” U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said at the ceremony. “They had different lives and different dreams, and they shared a tragic destiny."

Architects Julie Beckman and Keith Kaseman, designers of the park, helped Mr. Rumsfeld unveil a stone marker for the site. “We were looking to create a place beyond everyone's daily regime, a place like no other, because September 11 was an unimaginable day,” Ms. Beckman said, “So, we wanted to create a place that although it is sorrowful, it invites interpretation and allows visitors to come here and contemplate the September 11 events and remember those who were lost here."

Tom Heidenberger, who lost his wife Michele, a flight attendant on American Airlines 77, says he will be among those visitors to what the families of the dead consider hallowed ground.

“It will be a place not so much to remember and rehash the ugliness of that day,” he said, “but a place to remember those that perished, reflect on their lives, and at the same time, do what a memorial does: it pays honor and tribute to an individual life." Organizers say they have raised nearly half of the $22 million needed for construction of the memorial. It is slated for completion in September 2008.