Washington, Sept. 10 (Reuters): “It’s just a weird feeling sitting here, and you’re wondering, will they do the same thing again, just to be mean'” Delois Richards said, seated a few steps inside the Pentagon’s west wall, at the exact place where American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the building.
Richards, an administrative assistant in the U.S. Army’s personnel section, was not seated here on September 11, 2001, but she was one hallway away — close enough to feel the concussion when the hijacked jetliner hit, and close enough to know many who died in the attack.
“I’m sitting at my desk, taking a message, and all of a sudden the building was shaking, there was dust everywhere, the windows were shattering... and the people around you are gone. It’s just hard to shake,” Richards said yesterday.
She has not been to any memorial services over the last year. She said her first formal commemoration of the event would be the official ceremony set for tomorrow outside her window. “I don’t want to go Wednesday,” Richards said. “But if I go, I may be able to just get past it.”
Not everyone at the Pentagon feels this way. At the next desk over, Army Major Jamie Gayton had a matter-of-fact take on his situation. “I was away for the day (on September 11), otherwise I’d be dead,” Gayton said. He and others who had offices at the Pentagon’s ground zero were given tickets to Wednesday’s commemoration.
On the surface, the Pentagon has healed. The only way to tell where the five-storey-high gash was torn in the building is to follow the construction equipment.
Richards, Gayton and others in their office moved into newly-refurbished quarters on August 24, meeting a construction workers’ goal of having employees back on the job within a year at exactly the spot where the building was blown away.
The forest green carpet and dark wood furniture are new and the walls still smell vaguely of paint, a welcome change from the acrid odour of burning jet fuel that wafted through Pentagon corridors for days after the attack. Still, recovery is not complete. For months, the department has offered care for those with depression, anxiety and other maladies that cropped up since the attack.
At booths around the building this week, members of the Pentagon Stress Management Team handed out guidelines for dealing with the anniversary.
“Before deciding to be alone on the 11th, ask yourself if that is what you really want, or if you simply need a change of pace,” one flyer read.“Practise your right to decline an invitation.”