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Nearly complete Pentagon memorial tells story of 9/11

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  • Pentagon memorial slated for dedication on seventh anniversary of attack
  • Memorial features benches engraved with names of victims over pool of lighted water
  • Relative says memorial helps her to heal
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From Larry Shaughnessy
CNN Pentagon Producer
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ARLINGTON, Virginia (CNN) -- As president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund, Jim Laychak has been involved in nearly aspect of the project's planning.

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Stainless steel benches are oriented according to whether the victim was on the plane or in the Pentagon.

The only thing he has not done is visit the bench dedicated to his brother, Dave Laychak, who died on September 11, 2001, when a passenger airplane hit the Pentagon.

"I want to hold off and go and see his bench and touch his bench that day," said Laychak. "I wanted to save something special for me personally on September 11 when we dedicate the memorial, so I can spend some time with it then."

Laychak is one of many looking forward to the dedication of the memorial, which is being built to honor the 184 people killed when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.

"This is hallowed ground for a lot of the family members, and the essence of this place will be about them, those that we lost," Laychak said. Video Watch how visitors react to the memorial »

After more than five years of fundraising, the organizers are about $13 million short of their goal. They plan to have the memorial finished and dedicated on the seventh anniversary of the attacks.

The park, which cost $22 million to build, needs another $10 million in endowment funds to make sure it's always properly maintained. So far, the Pentagon Memorial Fund has raised $19 million from sources as diverse as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, NBA star [and Navy veteran] David Robinson and the government of Taiwan.

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The focus of the memorial is 184 cantilevered benches built over a pool of lighted water. Each bench is engraved on the end with the name of one of the 184 people who died on board Flight 77 or in the Pentagon that day.

The benches are arranged by age, with the bench of the youngest victim, 3-year-old Dana Falkenberg, in the far southeast corner and the bench honoring 71-year-old John Yamnicky in the northwest corner.

For Wendy Ploger, whose father and stepmother died aboard Flight 77, the benches add special meaning to the memorial.

"I don't know how to describe it, but it tells the story of what happened, which is sort of what helps me to heal," said Ploger, whose relatives were on their honeymoon when they died.

The benches for the 59 victims on board the plane are arranged so that someone reading the name on the end of the bench will face the sky where the plane came from. The 125 benches for the victims inside the Pentagon face the opposite direction, so someone reading the name will look up and see the south facade of the Pentagon, where the jet hit that day.

"The way the bench is facing, my father's bench, if you read his name on the end of it, you are facing the same direction that the plane was flying [from] as it impacted the Pentagon," said Ploger, whose parents were originally scheduled to take a different flight but changed their plans.

"At first I felt a little strange sitting on it. But then, it's comfort and it feels good and I feel like I'm close to my loved one," she said.

Some of the original plans have changed since construction started in June 2006. Originally, the benches were to be made of aluminum. But aluminum can oxidize, leaving pits and white residue. The builders chose to use marine-grade stainless steel, which won't rust and can withstand the elements.

The benches are inlaid with black and gold granite mined in Spain and cut in Canada. A perimeter wall around the park is built of the same Spanish granite.

Black granite was originally chosen for the top of a perimeter wall around the park, but builders learned the hard way that on warm and sunny days, the black granite gets so hot "it could burn your tuchis," one worker said.

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Ploger and Laychak say they are not sure how others will respond to the memorial, but for them, it brings a sense of peace.

"For me, it just makes it so real," Ploger said. "This is sort of the closest I've been to the event and to that day."

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