- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 18, 2006

The ugly, charred gash in the corner of the Pentagon is now gone, repaired in record time with a gleaming new granite, glass and steel-reinforced edifice indistinguishable from the other sides of the famous five-sided structure.

However, with the speed of the repairs and the business-as-usual demands of a nation and a building at war have come some understandable lapses in memory.

It’s possible to drive by the Defense Department these days and to forget the scenes of tragedy and valor — heroic firefighters, badly burned casualties, and the singed American flag draped over building — that played out there on the morning of September 11, 2001, and in the days thereafter.

Unlike the gaping hole in the aftermath of the Twin Towers attacks in Lower Manhattan, there is no visible manifestation of what transpired at the Pentagon site, no reminder of that terrible day. Not yet at least.

But, if a dedicated group of volunteers, family members, and architects succeed (and they will), a powerful memorial to the fallen will grace this consecrated earth at the scene of the tragedy as a remembrance and respite for all who visit.

A wonderful thing about Washington is how much it honors our collective national history through monuments and architecture. Many are dedicated to distant battlefields and fallen heroes who perished on foreign soils.

There is the submerged scar of the Vietnam War memorial, the armed vigilance of the foot patrol commemorating the Korean War, and the somber Mall monument to the greatest generation — the veterans of World War II. Yet, the Pentagon memorial in one important respect will be different.

For the first time in nearly 200 years of American history, since the British sacked the White House in 1812, the U.S. was hit on its home turf. Washington was attacked on September 11, 2001, by American Airlines flight 77 aimed as a missile directly at the heart of the U.S. defense establishment.

Through courage and commitment, the men and women of the Pentagon — civilians and military alike — responded with a fortitude and courage that has marked every battle where Americans have served in our long history.

Gen. Jack Keane, former vice chief of the Army Staff, has said he witnessed uncommon valor that day at the Pentagon and in the following days when the people of the Pentagon continued to come to work, despite the smoldering fires, uncertain dangers, and the smell of death.

Quietly, and with none of the fanfare or controversy associated with the project to build a monument in Manhattan, an effort was launched three years ago to commemorate September 11 at the site of the attack next to the Pentagon.

A national design competition was held, with hundreds of formal entrants. Many demonstrated incredible ingenuity and heart. An exhaustive evaluation process yielded a small group of deserving finalists. In the end, a deceptively simple yet elegant memorial design was chosen that blended steel, water, light and shade in ways virtually unique. It has been described as a monument that will be like no other and is destined to take its place alongside the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument as an essential stop on the Washington tour.

It will be a peaceful place with shade trees, cantilevered benches, and reflecting pools. The names of the fallen both at the Pentagon and from the jetliner will be there for posterity.

It will be the kind of place where you can take your family or maybe just stop by after work for a few moments of reverie.

The memorial will attract scores of visitors from other cities and continents, but it will be particularly important to Washingtonians who lived through the attack in our backyard.

Fundraising for the memorial has been an almost exclusively private endeavor, benefiting only from the consecrated land donated by the U.S. government just off the E-ring. Schoolchildren and retired veterans among scores of others contribute online to the fund for construction costs.

It has been an uphill battle to raise the necessary funds and awareness to build this sanctuary for reflection, but they will get there. A groundbreaking ceremony to mark the beginning of construction can be glimpsed on the horizon. Once completed, the Pentagon memorial will help Washingtonians everywhere to remember not to forget.

Kurt M. Campbell is senior vice president, Kissinger Chair holder and director of the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Mr. Campbell is a former deputy assistant defense secretary for Asia and the Pacific and staff director of the National Security Council.

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