Photo: Steve Thurston
Something about yesterday felt different for David McCandless, a volunteer docent at the Pentagon Memorial.
And I knew exactly what he meant. Maybe visiting the Pentagon Memorial on 9/11 is always a little different. Yet, this year, 9/11 fell on a Tuesday, and as fate would have it, a bright, clear, sunny Tuesday. A beautiful day, just like then.
“I about didn’t want to come today,” McCandless said. “My wife said to me, ‘You know, David, we owe it.'” So McCandless showed up in the red shirt that marks him as a guide, with his floppy hat and sunglasses.
His is a story like so many when tragedy strikes. A run-of-the-mill event, a lucky choice, that would not even be mentioned over dinner on a normal night becomes a life saver, the only thing worth talking about.
McCandless said he worked in the Pentagon--he retired from the Army in 2003--but a meeting called him off-site that day. His wife was in a wedge of the building that faces the Potomac River, a side opposite the one American Airlines flight 77 struck. Fifty-three civilians, six crew and five hijackers were aboard. The impact and explosion of jet fuel killed another 125 inside the building. Some were in a conference room McCandless had used.
McCandless and his wife decided after retirement that they would give back by training as volunteer docents at the memorial.
“We have friends that perished that day,” he said.
I had classes and meetings that kept me from any of the official events at the memorial. Inside the Pentagon, the military held a ceremony. Outside, a small group of chairs were set, and President Obama gave a statement.
I wonder if I would have felt it any more dramatically had I been at a ceremony.
The cantilevered benches rise from the field of brown stones and pronounce the names of the dead, etched as those names are in the stainless steel that miraculously floats over small pools of flowing water. Family and friends had visited yesterday and left behind flowers on the smooth granite of the bench seats or in the pools of water. Someone left a box of Junior Mints and a mini Hershey’s candy bar for Robert Speisman. Yellow roses floated in the water beneath Lt. Col. Kip P. Taylor’s name.
In the heat of the afternoon, people walked amid the 184 benches.
“It felt like the appropriate time to come out,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Scott Lintner. He viewed the site with Maj. Sharon Ritchie. They wore BDUs and said they were newly assigned to the Pentagon. Like me, this was their first time viewing it.