for National Geographic News
Workers broke ground for the construction of the American military's future nerve centerthe Pentagonon September 11, 1941.
Less than three months later, the horrific surprise attack on Pearl Harbor made the need for a centralized command center a national priority. The sense of urgency driving design teams and construction workers was so strong that the Pentagon was completed in just 16 months.
Exactly sixty years from the day its construction began, the seemingly impregnable fortress was violated. On September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked a commercial airliner and slammed it into the building.
Nearly two million square feet of office space sustained damage from the attack. Despite the devastation, rebuilding efforts began almost immediately. One component of that effort is the Phoenix Project, dedicated to the reconstruction of sections of the Pentagon directly hit by the plane.
The project's logo is the phoenix, a mythical bird that represents rebirth and immortality; their motto, proudly displayed on a worksite sign, is "Let's Roll." The slogan echoes the last words of Todd Beamer, one of the heroes of Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania as passengers battled terrorists high above the ground.
With patriotic fervor perhaps matching that of 1941, the Phoenix team set itself a daunting goal: to complete their task by September 11, 2002the anniversary of the attack.
Exterior Completed, Celebrated
Although many found the goal audacious, and some thought it impossible, the team is closing in on its self-imposed deadline to rebuild 400,000 square feet of office space and have it open for business on September 11.
A ceremony celebrating the completion of work on the outside of the building took place on June 11 when the final piece of limestone was placed into the outside wall. The limestone block was one of the original, damaged blocks recovered from the original building's façade.
"I was kind of shocked when I first saw that piece of limestone," said Walker Lee Evey, program manager for the Pentagon Renovation Program Office. "I'd already forgotten just how dark, how damaged the building was September 11th. And the contrast between that old piece of limestone, which was never cleaned, which we had retained for this purpose for all this time, and the new building, the new limestone around it, is quite dramatic."
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz placed a commemorative capsule honoring the victims of the September 11 attack behind the limestone block.
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