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A Guide to Visiting the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial

The Virginia site is a quietly powerful reminder of the 184 people killed in the attack

spinner image View of the Pentagon 911 Memorial, Washington DC
Gauthier Bouret/Getty Images

The cantilevered benches — 184 of them — emerge from the ground, sleek, simple, sacred. They run parallel to each other along subtle but distinct lines: the precise path taken by American Airlines Flight 77 as it plowed into the Pentagon's western side on Sept. 11, 2001. Pools under the benches shimmer. The only sounds are the crunch of gravel underfoot, the burble of water, the leafy rustle of crape myrtle trees and the whispers of visitors honoring the 184 people who were killed in the terrorist attack — 125 in the Pentagon and 59 who were on the plane that crashed into it.

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The National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, a 2-acre park in Arlington, Virginia, within the security perimeter of the massive Pentagon, lies mere yards from the point of impact that fateful day. Wedged between the nerve center of America's military might and one of the main commuter thoroughfares into Washington, D.C., the first and smallest of the three main 9/11 memorials seems, at first, unassuming — and doesn't always make visitors’ lists in a region with so many famous monuments and museums. But stay awhile and its power to move emerges.

spinner image Cantilevered bench memorial and lighted pool part of the Pentagon Memorial at night
Ronald S Phillips / Alamy Stock Photo

If You Go

The memorial, open 24 hours a day, is accessible by Metrorail (Pentagon stop) or car, though there's no parking on-site except for several handicapped spaces. Drivers can park at the nearby Pentagon City mall. For a free 24-minute audio tour, call 202-741-1004; pentagonmemorial.org

Lines demarcating years, starting with 2001 (Zero Line), run diagonally across the graveled space and go backward in time. Each bench lines up with the birth year of that victim, whose name is inscribed at the end of the bench's arch. Five children perished in the attack, with the youngest, Dana Falkenberg, only 3 years old. The bench of Dana's 8-year-old sister, Zoe, is close by (they were on the flight with their parents, headed to Australia). There are also benches dedicated to three fifth- and sixth-graders, who were flying to California with their teacher to participate in a National Geographic program.

A large gap represents the years that separate the children from the adults. Along the year line 1979 lies the bench of 22-year-old Edmond G. Young Jr., a computer technician at the Pentagon. And on and on until one reaches the year 1930 and the bench of 71-year-old retired Navy Capt. John D. Yamnicky Sr., who was aboard the airliner. It's there, at the park's far end, that Jim Laychak likes to sit and remember his brother, David, who died in the crash. “You can see everything from there,” he says. “I love to watch the way the sun reflects off the water onto the benches."

It's a soothing interplay of liquid motion — whatever the time of day or weather condition, including the cool dark of night (the site is open 24 hours a day).

The stainless-steel benches, inlaid with granite, are invitations to sit and reflect, though many visitors prefer to walk among the trees, stopping at a random bench to ponder the name inscribed at one end. To distinguish the plane deaths from the Pentagon deaths, point your gaze above the name: The benches are oriented so that you'll see either sky or the Pentagon.

While the site is a place of remembrance, it's also a place of teaching. Laychak, the executive director of the Pentagon Memorial Fund, says plans call for a visitor education center. “Terrorism hasn't gone away. More than ever, we need to come together to find solutions. This place isn't just about remembering the victims; it looks to promote dialogue and understanding in order to change the future.”

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Based in Alexandria, Virginia, freelance journalist Norie Quintos is a contributing editor at National Geographic Travel Media. Her work has also appeared in Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal and Washingtonian magazine.

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