I originally wrote this post for Independence Day 2005 on Captain’s Quarters, on my first visit to Washington, DC. 

When I first announced my trip to Washington, DC, I received many kind offers from local readers for assistance and pointers. One of the kindest offers came from a CQ reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, who gave me and my family a chance to tour the Pentagon on July 4th. Needless to say, we gratefully accepted this offer, and early this morning we started out our celebration of Independence Day by meeting him for the tour.

He started us off in the west wing, the portion of the building that terrorists attacked on 9/11. We could not take pictures of the outside, but remarkably, we had no trouble taking pictures of the interior. The Pentagon has a beautiful memorial at Ground Zero for the victims of 9/11. (More pictures of the memorial and other experiences will be found below.)

Our friend also showed us the direction that the plane took in hitting the Pentagon, from the window just below the entry point. It came in just over the Sheraton hotel in the background, clipping a light pole, bounced off the freeway, killing a cab driver, and hit just short of the Pentagon. This time sequence explains why the Pentagon took less damage than one might expect; the bounce took off some of the momentum and fuel before the plane hit the building, meaning that the impact did not travel as deeply and the fire did not burn as hot.

Notice the foreground construction work. The Pentagon is building a memorial for 9/11 which will be completed soon, and will sit directly in front of the impact spot. Funding comes from private sources, and if you want to contribute, please go to this website.

We spent time in other areas of the Pentagon as well. For those of us who have worked in the defense industry, a visit to the Pentagon comes as quite an eye-opener. First, the renovations to the interior make the place quite pleasant — nothing like the function-only military that us old-timers would expect. The military and civilian staffers have a mall-style food court, numerous business such as banks and health clinics, and much more inside the world’s largest office building for their convenience. The newer areas are especially well designed, and some of the many hallways have decor themes that teach history and give the place a distinctive flavor.

Being a military facility, of course, it didn’t take long for us to find something that struck fear into our very hearts. For instance, while everyone else was on holiday, look who got left in charge of press relations:

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

All kidding aside, this tour deeply impressed our entire family. Not only did the Pentagon remind us of the sacrifice of our fellow citizens, both military and civilian, but it also demonstrated the kind of country in which we live. Number the countries that allow their citizens to walk around taking pictures of their most central military planning facility for their enjoyment and remembrances, and I’ll bet you have fingers left over. This lesson came on the perfect day, and I will be forever grateful to the gentleman who gave up his holiday morning to escort us through the Pentagon. He will remain anonymous to my readers at his very understandable request, but rest assured he will be long remembered by us.