It was a Friday, the Pentagon parking lot was emptying, many people were headed out, headed home no doubt, their weekly labors complete. We were there because my daughter felt we should see this place.
All week it had been drizzly and damp, for the first time since Monday the sun was shining and the sky was a dazzling blue. As we approached the Memorial, we grew silent, respectful.
I had seen pictures of it, but seeing it in person, for the first time is sobering.
On that day, that bright September day in 2001, one-hundred-eighty-four men, women, and children died at that place.
The oldest was 71.
The youngest was 3.
Standing on that ground, in that place makes you think. Or it should.
The preceding Sunday had been Mother's Day. On some of the benches there were carnations. Red carnations. White carnations.
The breeze was brisk, some of the carnations had fallen to the ground. One of those benches was near where we were standing, it seemed perfectly natural to retrieve the fallen carnation and place it back in its place.
I saw the name.
SPC Chin Sun Pak Wells...
A shiver ran through me, this lady was Korean. As is my wife. A connection, however tenuous, was formed.
Suddenly these were no longer casualties, it struck me then and there, these were people. Normal, every day people. The kind you see at work, on the street, at the theater. These were not simply names on a memorial, these were people.
A tear came to my eye as I placed that carnation back on the bench memorializing SPC Wells. Looking around at all the other benches, it was nearly overwhelming. All those people had started that day probably much like they'd started every other day of their lives.
Then by a monstrous stroke of infamy, all their days had come to an end.
Their hopes, their dreams, reduced to bitter ashes.
The benches have a purposeful arrangement. Those pointing towards the Pentagon commemorate those who died on board American Airlines Flight 77. Those pointing away from the Pentagon, commemorate those who died there in the building, at their posts.
The benches are arranged by year of birth. As I'm sure many have done before and many will do again, I paused at the row of benches for 1953, the year of my birth. There are six benches for that year. At the one nearest the outer path where I stood, I paused and placed my hand on the bench memorializing Bryan C. Jack. By his biography I see that he was a very intelligent and accomplished man. I didn't know that at the time, I just knew that he was a fellow American who was born the same year as I.
I for one will never forget those folks. Nor those who died in New York, nor those who died in a field in Pennsylvania nor all those men, women, and children who have died in this hateful struggle.
Yes, it is a hateful struggle. All wars are hateful, some, like this one, are necessary. For we are at war. Never forget that.
Never forget them.