Park at Pentagon

For tourists, the new memorial to 184 people who died at the Pentagon in the September 11 terrorist attacks is not especially convenient.

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ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA // For tourists, the new memorial to 184 people who died at the Pentagon in the September 11 terrorist attacks is not especially convenient. Nor is it ideal from a security perspective to have constant public access directly outside the US military's nerve centre. But there is little dispute that the new memorial, which opens to the public today, was built precisely where it should have been: at the spot where American Airlines Flight 77 ploughed into the west wall of the Pentagon.

"This is hallowed ground," said James Laychak, whose brother, David Laychak, was killed in the attack. Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, will speak at a ceremony dedicating the memorial today. The memorial, built on an angle parallel to the plane's path just before it crashed, consists principally of 184 cantilevered benches, each bearing a victim's name. The 0.8-hectare park will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and will be patrolled by the Pentagon police department.

William Stout, deputy chief of operations for the department, acknowledged some ambivalence about the location. "If you're asking me as deputy chief of operations if I'm happy with the location, I'd have to say 'no'," Mr Stout said. "But overall, it seems logical to me to have it here ... We'll have eyes on it all the time." It was not always certain that the memorial would be erected at the site of the crash. The Pentagon suggested about 10 different options. But family members were adamant that the memorial be built where the plane crashed, Mr Laychak said.

Mr Laychak, also president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund, said the fund had already raised the US$22 million (Dh81m) needed to build the memorial, but fund-raising efforts are continuing to help pay for its upkeep. Memorials are also planned in New York and western Pennsylvania at the sites where three other hijacked planes crashed on September 11, but the Pentagon Memorial is the first to be completed. It has avoided some of the controversies that have plagued other sites. In New York, work on the memorial stopped for a time as officials sought to cut costs from a project approaching $1 billion.

Construction of the memorial is entwined with overall redevelopment efforts at the World Trade Center site, and has been delayed. Project managers have already given up on a 2009 completion date and have recently warned that it may not meet the current target of completion by September 11 2011. Mr Laychak said he is curious to see how the public will react to and interact with the Pentagon Memorial. He believes its design puts visitors in a reflective state of mind.

"I look forward to seeing some of the customs and traditions that will develop," he said, referring to traditions that started spontaneously at other memorials, such as the pencil rubbings of names on the Vietnam Memorial. * Associated Press