The Pentagon and 9/11-Memorial

  - darkometer rating:  3 -
The Pentagon is the nerve centre of the USA's military and as such it's probably the spot with the highest concentration of power in the world (at least with regard to power in the sense of military capability – the political power centres lie in nearby Washington D.C.). The buildings was thus a prime target for the terrorist attacks on 9/11, when an airliner was steered into the side of the west facade. The event is now commemorated by a sprawling monument right next to the Pentagon. 

>More background info

>What there is to see


>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations


More background info: Located in Arlington, just outside Washington D.C. proper (but only just) the Pentagon is the administrative nerve centre of the USA's military might. Over 25,000 people work here.
The building, constructed during WWII between 1941 and 1943, is aptly named the Pentagon after its five-sided layout – chosen to make the distances between any two points within the building as minimal as possible, in order to streamline internal logistics.
It's the largest office building in the world by floor space, almost twice that of the Palace of Parliament in Bucharest, which thus comes a distant second. But owing to the clever layout the Pentagon looks much less imposing when you actually stand in front of it. (Incidentally, the Pentagon is no longer the world's very largest building by floor space - some airport terminals and crazily oversized Chinese piles of recent years have overtaken it in rather less than subtle ways – just check the "world's largest buildings" lists on Wikipedia ...)
For the dark tourist it is of interest partly because of its function (though you can't see that) but much more so for the fact that it was the second target on 9/11, when another hijacked plane (American Airlines flight 77) crashed into the side of the Pentagon in a suicide attack. 189 people were killed, including 125 inside the Pentagon.
The death toll could have been far higher had the part of the Pentagon hit by the plane not been undergoing renovation work at the time, which meant that only a fraction of the people normally at work in this section were actually there.
Nevertheless, the event still has to rank as the second worst attack on American soil, obviously after "Ground Zero" in New York, and just ahead of the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing of 1995.  
The physical damage to the building was also severe, albeit on a far less serious scale than that at "Ground Zero" in New York. The wing of the Pentagon, which only partly collapsed, was fully rebuilt and operational again within less than a year.
There are still twisted conspiracy theories that claim it wasn't a plane that hit the Pentagon – but that it was a bomb or a missile possibly even fired by the US military itself and other such crazy accusations – and all that despite the many reports by eyewitnesses who clearly saw the plane going into the building, and the aircraft debris retrieved from the ruins (or outside it – such as one of the mangled engines). But of course, just like any typical conspiracy theory, this one also takes the preferred form of simply asking suggestive questions, not taking in any counter-evidence (or dismissing it as fabricated). But the one question that such theories consistently fail to ask is the crucial one: if it wasn't flight 77 that hit the Pentagon, where's the disappeared plane gone to?
There is now an official, large memorial outside the reconstructed wall that was hit, which was inaugurated on September 11, 2008. It is thus the first of the three official permanent 9/11 monuments in the USA, completed a few years ahead of the main National 9/11 Memorial in New York, and the memorial currently taking shape at Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where United flight 93 was brought down in a field (i.e. before reaching an unknown third target).
What there is to see: First of all, and impossible to overlook, the massive Pentagon building itself is quite a sight. Although I must say that when I first stood in front of the building it appeared much smaller than I had anticipated. However, the area size of the structure was homed in when I took the long walk round three sides of it to get from the Metro station to the memorial – almost half a mile (700m).
The 9/11 monument on the west side of the building (i.e. where the plane hit), has the form of a kind of stylized park and consists mainly of a field of 184 "benches" (not for sitting on!) of wavy metal shape clad with marble, descending into the ground on one side and hovering over small oblong, shallow hollows filled with water of roughly the same size as the "bench", so that it looks like they are rising from those water beds.
Each "bench" has the name of one of the victims engraved at the front, i.e. the water-side. The figure 184 is of course the number of the victims only – i.e. minus the hijackers! It was clearly seen as inappropriate to mention the five dead perpetrators here as well.
The "benches" and the side with the engraved names for the victims onboard the plane are facing away from the building (i.e. in the direction that the plane came from) whereas those for the (ca. two-thirds of the) victims inside the Pentagon can be read facing the building.
Amongst the "benches" facing the Pentagon and closest to it you can see the memorial bench for the youngest victim, Dana Falkenberg, who was only three years old when she perished. Along a wall encircling the complex the years of birth of the victims are given, ending with the oldest, who was 71 at the time of the tragedy.  
Amongst the "benches" birch trees have been planted that at the time of my visit in March 2010 were still very small. Eventually, however, the park will be a much greener, woodier affair when the trees are mature.
In addition to the monument's benches, wall and trees design, there are also more traditional memorial stones, one with the names of the Pentagon's victims on them on one side. One stone details the persons involved in the planning and inauguration of the memorial (here, then President George W. Bush's name is unavoidable). And there's also an apparently older, simpler memorial stone round the corner on the approach path.
One thing I found quite bizarre, almost a bit disturbing, was the fact that every minute or so you could see aircraft passing straight by the Pentagon – namely en route to the National Airport which lies just beyond the other side of the building by the Potomac. Seeing these passenger aircraft, some of the same type as that of AA flight 77, roaring by so closely at this location had the strange effect of heightening the memory of what happened here on 9/11.
The Pentagon itself can in theory be visited on guided tours (by prior arrangement only), but it's not quite clear whether these are also open to foreigners. I've found conflicting information about this, but didn't try going on a tour, so I can't say from first-hand experience what the situation may be. There isn't much extra of particular interest for the dark tourist inside the building anyway, except the smaller "American Heroes Memorial" in the rebuilt wing that was hit by the plane. This apparently features panels with victims' names, medals, etc. and an adjacent chapel with patriotic-themed stained glass windows. For most dark tourists just a look at the Pentagon from the outside should fully suffice.
Location: across the Potomac River from downtown Washington D.C. just south of Arlington Cemetery – the 9/11 monument is in front of the west-facing facade of the Pentagon building alongside S Washington Blvd.
Google maps locator: [38.8705,-77.0591]
Access and costs: quite easy to get to; free.
Details: to get to the Pentagon, the Metro is the most convenient mode of transport for the typical tourist. Both the blue line and the yellow line serve the Pentagon station from downtown Washington. From the Metro exit you need to walk almost halfway around the expansive Pentagon building itself. The path is clearly signposted. In theory, you could also drive, but it's not worth the navigational hassle and that of finding parking – not recommended.
Opening times: the 9/11 memorial is open all year round the clock. The Pentagon is not normally accessible to the general public (unless pre-arranged group tours are available).
Admission free
Note that there are restrictions in place around the area regarding, in particular, photography, which is forbidden everywhere except from within the memorial complex itself. The Pentagon is policed by its own security force – so no misbehaving at this sensitive location!
Time required: not that long. A quick visit for a glance at the Pentagon building and a walk around the memorial can be done in about half an hour, if that. If you were to read all the victims' names on the "benches" you'd obviously need longer …
Combinations with other dark destinations: Arlington Cemetery is just north of the Pentagon, but despite this proximity I found it impossible to get there on foot from the memorial. I asked some local visitors and they confirmed that I'd be better off taking the Metro to Arlington's own station, just one stop to the north on the blue line.
The Metro also connects to downtown Washington D.C. and most of its various other dark sites.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: see under Washington D.C.
  • 1 - Pentagon 9-11 memorial1 - Pentagon 9-11 memorial
  • 2 - The Pentagon and 9-11 memorial2 - The Pentagon and 9-11 memorial
  • 3 - 9-11 memorial marker3 - 9-11 memorial marker
  • 4 - 9-11-memorial with stone of names4 - 9-11-memorial with stone of names
  • 5 - stylized seats facing towards or away from the Pentagon5 - stylized seats facing towards or away from the Pentagon
  • 6 - The Pentagon near National Airport6 - The Pentagon near National Airport
  • 7 - Pentagon 9-11 memorial detail7 - Pentagon 9-11 memorial detail
  • 8 - Pentagon 9-11 memorial - name of the youngest victim8 - Pentagon 9-11 memorial - name of the youngest victim
  • 9 - The Pentagon seen from Arlington9 - The Pentagon seen from Arlington


©, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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