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July 4, 2006
A Look Back At A DC 4th

Last year, we were honored to have been given a private tour of the Pentagon by a CQ reader assigned there. In honor of this year's Independence Day, I would like to remind CQ readers of the tour and what it meant to us. We wish you happiness and an appreciation of the gift of freedom on this Fourth of July.

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 in the extended entry.)

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.

The Pentagon Flag

Yesterday, our family toured the DC area by bus, which allowed us to see most of the sites we intended to visit on our trip. We made it to the Vietnam War memorial, where the First Mate found the name of a family friend, William Rowland (picture in extended entry), who gave his life for his country in June 1968. The tour took us through other inspiring and thought-provoking monuments, such as the World War II memorial, the FDR monument, and Arlington Cemetery, where we visited John Kennedy's gravesite and thousands of others.

We found all of these exhibits and remembrances remarkable. However, we found one particular display to resonate most with all of us, one that moved us the most. At the Smithsonian American History Museum, one of the newest exhibits greets visitors almost immediately upon entry. That is a three-story-long American flag -- a star-spangled banner with a story.

After the attack on the Pentagon on 9/11, the building had a huge, gaping hole in its side, a wound that matched the one our nation felt after the terrorist slaughter. The next day, a group of rescue workers and military personnel at the Pentagon got a garrison flag and draped it from the top of the building right over the cavernous maw. This flag told the terrorists that we would not allow them to scare us -- that America would not cut and run from this unthinkable attack. The flag remained in place for a month, reminding us and the world that we would rebuild, and then we would make sure that the people who thought they could cow us with senseless attacks would soon learn differently. A year after it made its appearance over the Pentagon, the flag came to the Smithsonian, with the dirt and grease of its exposure to the damage still part of it.

When we celebrate the Fourth today in our nation's capital, we will remember men like William Rowland, who gave a small gift to a little girl thirty-eight years ago, and gave the ultimate gift to his country shortly thereafter. We celebrate leaders like FDR, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, John Kennedy, and the thousands buried with him at Arlington who died to make men free. But mostly I will remember that flag that hung at the Pentagon on September 12th as the perfect encapsulation of American tenacity and fierce protectiveness of its liberty and freedom, and the defiance towards those who seek to make men slaves to tyranny and oppression.

Happy Independence Day to all of my wonderful friends at Captain's Quarters.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 4, 2006 12:00 PM

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