9/11 at the Pentagon – 10 Years Later

September 6, 2011

It’s hard to believe that the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is almost here. It was one of those events, like Pearl Harbor or the Kennedy assassination, which remains in the memory with startling clarity. From where I was working in the Government Printing Office (GPO), we could see the column of smoke from the strike on the Pentagon. Later, after Federal Government facilities in the DC area closed down, I walked from GPO to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (I still remember a woman telling a Smithsonian guard that she had seen someone on the building’s roof – and who could tell what that meant in a world spinning out of control?) to meet my wife, who by some miracle got into the District and picked me up. On the way home, we drove past the Pentagon. It looked like the set of a disaster movie, the windows in the stricken area appearing as little orange rectangles of flame in a floodtide of black smoke. Several years later, after a reconstruction that left no sign of the horrific damage, I was in the Pentagon on business and our escort mentioned that we were walking in the corridor through which Flight 77 smashed – an awesome and saddening moment.

Several years ago, the Office of the Secretary of Defense published what must be considered the definitive story of September 11, 2001 at the Pentagon. Pentagon 9/11 is packed with eyewitness accounts of the strike, the fires, the deaths, and the heroism of rescuers in the face of almost unimaginable disaster. It’s chilling to read eyewitness descriptions of Flight 77 flying into the Pentagon (more than 1,300 interviews went into the development of this book), and uplifting to find out how some badly injured staffers and outside rescuers helped others to escape the resulting inferno. As the book notes, “There could not have been as many survivors of the attack on the Pentagon without the persistent and selfless acts of others – military and civilian – who were themselves caught in the maelstrom or came unhesitatingly from elsewhere in the building to respond to the desperate circumstances facing the many victims trapped in the wreckage.”

Another chapter describes the efforts of firefighters to extinguish those orange rectangles of flame I saw that day, fed by thousands of gallon of jet fuel. Other sections cover medical treatment of the victims, securing the building, helping the survivors and the families of the victims, and the gigantic effort that allowed the Pentagon to be declared “open for business” on September 12. It’s a dramatic story, and Pentagon 9/11 tells it both factually and with compassion.

You can access this excellent book in multiple ways. To browse though it, go here. GPO still has copies of the first edition and will soon have a 10th anniversary edition with a new Foreword by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. You can also find an eBook version here. Finally, it’s also available in many libraries. Whichever format you choose, you’ll be rewarded by an unforgettable reading experience.


Notable Documents: Gardens and Urban Landscapes

August 4, 2010

“Touching” is not a word usually applied to Government publications, but it’s an appropriate one for “Memoryscape,” one of the case studies in Restorative Commons: Creating the Health and Well-Being through Urban Landscapes. This U.S. Forest Service publication, one of Library Journal’s 2009 Notable Government Documents, is an attractively packaged and well-illustrated collection of thought pieces, case studies, and interviews focused on the idea that biophilia – the basic human need for contact with nature – can and must be fostered in urban settings. As Oliver Sacks says in his Foreword, “I would even suggest that a sort of subtype of biophilia may be hortophilia, or a special desire for gardens….In many cases, gardens and nature are more powerful than any medication.” I know that whenever I pass an urban common garden, it always evokes positive feelings in me, even though I’m not a gardener myself. A walk or hike in a park definitely takes me out of myself and my problems, and it seems to work that way for most folks I know.

All the more pressing then, is the need to make nature and gardens available in such places as Rikers Island (a jail), Red Hook (a blighted urban neighborhood in New York City), Fresh Kills Park (a landfill), and Bosnia-Herzegovina (the site of horrific ethnic cleansing in the 1990’s).The essays and interviews in Restorative Commons describe the innovative garden/landscape projects in these places and others, along with the stories of the people who are running the programs and those benefiting from them vocationally and psychologically.

And then there’s “Memoryscape,” about the place in Westfield, Massachusetts known as “100 acres.” Brian Murphy, his brother Harold, and many of their friends used this area – an area of trees, dirt roads, and wildlife – as their “romping grounds.” Brian was killed at the World Trade Center, and Harold used his skills as a real estate developer with an interest in open space conservation to have 30 acres of this urban landscape permanently preserved. He takes his brother’s kids there to show them their dad’s “place” and, aside from a planned trail, it will stay as it is, rusted train trestle and all, so they and future generations can romp there, too. There are informal 9/11 memorials like this in the Boston and LA areas, where the planes took off, in the Greater New York area and adjoining suburbs, and in the DC area, too. (We could see the smoke from the Pentagon from our office windows that day).

 This is an inspiring and hope-filled book. You can get,view, or order your own copy here or find it in a library here.


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