By Tarron Lively
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Visitors at the Pentagon yesterday received a first look at a chapel and memorial dedicated to victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The tours came on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the attacks, which will be remembered in the region today with a memorial walk from the Pentagon to the Mall.
More than 1,500 people took the tour yesterday, officials said. The Defense Department has permitted tours of the site only for families of victims and for groups with reservations. Yesterday was the first time the general public was offered an opportunity to view the memorial.
"The memorial is very touching, very meaningful to a lot of people," said Therese Stein, 30, of Arlington, who toured the site with her mother, Dee.
"We live near here, close enough to hear the plane crash,"said Dee Stein, 60. "I'll never forget that sound."
The wall destroyed by the crash was rebuilt with a stone scorched by the crash, engraved with the date of the attack.
The stone was placed at the point of impact where American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the building, killing 184 persons -- 125 inside the building.
Visitors were guided through a room dedicated to the victims of the Pentagon crash, whose names were inscribed on the walls. The visitors were able to sign a condolence book that is viewed by victims' families and stored in the Pentagon archives.
They were then led into a memorial chapel built during the rebuilding of the Pentagon, a small room with stained-glass windows engraved with passages of the pledge taken by military members.
"It was so touching and heartwarming," said Janie Simmons, 56. A government employee in the District, Miss Simmons said she has vivid memories of the turmoil and fear in the city that day.
The memorial "almost makes you relive that day over."
"September 11 is something that people will always remember," she said.
The brief tour also went past the 2-acre site designated for an $18 million memorial.
Organizers have raised about $8 million and expect to be at about $9 million by the end of the month, said James Laychak, president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund Inc.
"The emotion that some people showed, I wasn't really expecting," Mr. Laychak said. "It was a nice surprise. It confirms that we're on the right path, and that this is important to a lot of people."
Construction is planned to begin in the fall of 2006, Mr. Laychak said. Once the memorial is finished, the organization will attempt to raise an additional $10 million for an endowment fund for the memorial's maintenance.
The tours were in conjunction with a walk and country music concert today to commemorate the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks and to honor U.S. troops and veterans.
The two-mile "America Supports You Freedom Walk" will begin at 10 a.m., wind past the section of the Pentagon hit in the attack and Arlington National Cemetery before crossing the Arlington Memorial Bridge and passing the Lincoln Memorial.
The event will conclude on the south side of the Reflecting Pool with a free concert by Clint Black, a Grammy-winning country music star.
The walk will be preceded by a private ceremony for the 184 persons killed at the Pentagon during the attacks. The ceremony is being sponsored by the Pentagon Memorial Fund Inc.
Other events scheduled for today include an observance in Arlington County at 9:15 a.m. at Courthouse Plaza, 2100 Clarendon Blvd. The event will include an honor guard and a moment of silence at 9:37 a.m. -- the time the plane struck the Pentagon. A bell will toll 184 times, once for each victim.