- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2001

They come to pay their respects, to cry for the dead and maybe to mourn their own loss of innocence. The collective ritual of grieving, it seems, is not going to end anytime soon.
The grassy field at the foot of the Navy Annex that overlooks the crash site has become a regular stop for scores of people who drop off flowers, candles and sympathy cards to remember those who were killed at the Pentagon and aboard American Airlines Flight 77 last Tuesday.
"Coming here felt like I was going to a funeral today," said Barbara, who didn't want her last name used. "I had to be here. I had to take part in this. I had to touch it to believe that this was real."
Richard Royal, of Odenton, Md., stopped by during his break from work. "There's just emptiness in my heart when I see this memorial and then look at the crash site.
"I came here to show my respect," he said. "I don't have a lot to offer, but I'm an American. It's the least I can do."
Seeing the devastation on television and, in recent days, the memorial services does little to prepare them. Those who came to the field which is no bigger than a Little League baseball field at the corner of Columbia Pike and Southgate Road yesterday were overwhelmed as they looked at the messages and mementos visitors before them had left behind.
At one point, a woman became so emotional, her husband had to carry her back to their car.
"This is exactly what everyone here is feeling right now," said Sandra Miller of Arlington. "I can't take much more of this," she said, her eyes welling up with tears.
Some laid flowers, others placed handwritten notes of condolences next to the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps flags that lay on the ground.
"We have come here today to honor those brave souls who gave up their lives so we may live in a free country," wrote Sharon Wothke of Houston.
"God, please take care of our brothers and sisters," read another.
Others sat underneath some trees and stared at the charred remains of the Pentagon's west side.
"This is just heartwrenching," said Marian Coogan of Manassas. "You can't help but think of what must have gone through the hearts of these people, the terror they felt before they died. My heart has just been broken into tiny pieces."
But there was defiant anger, too.
A faded yellow Navy T-shirt rested among the sea of mementos. On it is a message from Navy Capt. F. Helmkamp to his friend, Capt. Bob Dolan, who was one of the 253 confirmed dead in the Pentagon attack.
"They who did this will hear our battle cry of freedom," Capt. Helmkamp wrote. "Don't worry about the family. We'll look after Lisa and the kids."
A few feet away, a porcelain cross lies in memory of Angela Houtz, a civilian employee who had turned 27 five days before she was killed. "A beautiful new angel now watches over us," a message to her reads.
The memorial at the Pentagon is one of many that have been set up throughout the region.
In Bethesda, people continued to write messages of sorrow, pledges of patriotism and expressions of future hope on the Bethesda Unity Wall that was erected Friday by the Bethesda Urban Partnership, Ronald McDonald House, American Red Cross and Montgomery County police.
The theme described across the bottom of the wall states, "Sharing, Hope and Healing."
"This is so tragic," said an elderly woman yesterday when approaching the wall, where small bits of white plywood poked out from behind handwritten messages.
"If you think we're patriotic now, imagine the day we can rejoice, knowing that we have vanquished every known tie to terrorism in the world in every country, everywhere. Then the world will feel the pride of America, knowing we have again rid the world of a threat to humanity," read one message.
As people paused and read the messages, two men played classical music on a guitar and flute.
Many signs of mourning and memorials from last week are now gone. Along Embassy Row on Massachusetts Avenue NW, for instance, the flags of foreign countries are still at half-staff but most of the American flags have been taken down.
A huge stack of candles that remained in a sort of memorial near the front of the Lincoln Memorial after thousands participated in the candlelight vigil along the Reflecting Pool Friday night has been routinely cleared by cleanup crews.
A 3-foot wreath of flowers and miniature American flags adorned the first soldier statue at the Korean War Veterans Memorial.
A poem, written by Master Gunnery Sgt. Ralph Sorrell, was left behind at the Pentagon memorial. It summed up what most visitors said they felt yesterday as they visited the memorial.
"I am bloody, bruised and wounded, but I am not dead; I am mad and, once again, in defense of my democracy I will destroy my enemies."

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