Jim Laychak said he imagines a time when he will sit at the Pentagon Memorial with family and friends at the close of day to watch people laugh, cry and remember the 184 people who died there on Sept. 11, 2001.
His dream came a step closer to becoming reality on Thursday during a groundbreaking ceremony at the Pentagon.
Laychak’s brother, Prince William resident David Laychak, was among those who died when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.
In his comments to a crowd of about 1,000 people, Laychak said he liked to remember laughing with his brother and encouraged others who had lost loved ones to take pleasure in similar memories.
“None of us will ever forget the horrible feeling we felt on 9/11 — that horrible pain we felt in the gut that seemed to last for days and weeks,” he said “Today, let’s remember what was special about those we lost.”
Laychak said that the memorial would be “one of the greatest memorials in a city of great memorials.”
It will be a place of remembrance, and memories will define it, said Laychak.
“That’s what will become the essence of this place, this hallowed ground,” said Laychak, who is president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund board of directors.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld also spoke at the ceremony for the memorial that will have 184 benches pointing in the direction of the flight path of the airliner that struck the building.
Each bench, with a pool of light underneath, will be inscribed with the a name of one of those who died in the crash.
“They had different lives and different dreams and they shared a tragic destiny,” Rumsfeld said of those whose names will be on the benches. “Every one of these lives was special with hopes cut short and with loved ones left behind.”
Rumsfeld said the memorial was meant to offer comfort to those who lost loved ones in the crash.
“Today we claim this ground for them, their families,” Rumsfeld said. “Now you can know that we will never forget.”
Oscar White’s wife, Sandra L. White, died in the Pentagon when the plane hit.
White attended the ceremony in a field of stubbly, dusty grass where 80 or so paper-bark maples will grow when the memorial is finished in about two years.
The ceremony itself was important to the process of remembering those who died, said White, who recently retired from the Defense Information Systems Agency.
“It’s a very important opportunity for us to stop and reflect on the fact that freedom isn’t free and that many wonderful people gave their lives for our privilege to be free,” the Montclair man said said.
The process to choose a design, and get started has been ongoing for about four and a half years.
White said the time has been well spent.
“I think to do it right — and they have done — to have a design like this that is so unique, I think is well worth the time invested,” said White, a retired U.S. Army colonel.
Lisa Dolan, lost her husband, U.S. Navy Capt. Bob Dolan, in the crash.
In the aftermath Lisa Dolan joined the family steering committee on the Pentagon Memorial Fund.
“I was shocked at how smooth and wonderful the process was,” Dolan said.
The process included opportunities for the families to review and comment on the designs before a jury selection, said Dolan who is from Mt. Vernon.
“The process was very fair,” she said. “Whoever wanted to be involved was welcome to come and express opinions and feelings.”
Dolan had conflicting emotions about the groundbreaking ceremony.
“It’s a bittersweet day,” she said.
On one hand the ceremony brought lost loved ones to mind. On the other hand, hard work was paying off and dreams were being realized.
“It’s something that we have deeply felt that our family members be remembered,” said Dolan who now serves on the board of directors for the Pentagon Memorial Fund.
“We’re seeing something come to fruition that we’ve been waiting for for four years,” she said.
So far the Pentagon Memorial Fund has collected about $11 million for the project that will cost about $22 million to complete, Dolan said.
The fund hopes to raise an additional $10 million for maintenance.
Keith Kaseman and Julie Beckman of KBAS in New York City designed the memorial.
“It’s just an incredible honor. It’s difficult to explain the magnitude of how we feel,” Kaseman said of having his team’s design chosen from 1,126 submissions.
Beckman said she was happy to be with the families at the ceremony.
“We came up with an idea and it’s amazing how many people have come forward to help us realize it and it’s all for the families of the 184 individuals and for the community at large,” Beckman said.
Nineteen Prince William residents died in the Pentagon. Three Prince William residents died at the World Trade Center in New York.