PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — On this Memorial Day, there’s a push to make sure future generations never forget the terrorist attacks that changed our world forever.
The Pentagon Memorial Fund is working to build an education center at the 9/11 Memorial in Arlington, which honors the 184 lives lost there on Sept. 11, 2001, and all who sacrifice so that we may live in freedom.
“[The younger generation] really don’t understand what happened that day, what happened in response that day and then looking long-term, how their lives to this moment are being impacted,” said Pentagon Memorial Fund Board of Directors Chairman Sean Connaughton.
Connaughton, a former Virginia State Transportation Secretary, told WAVY how 9/11 changed his life.
“I had just come off active duty the week before, that morning I had gone to the Pentagon gym,” he said.
He was on his way to the Navy Command Center, which is right where the plane hit, but checked the time and ran out to a meeting instead.
“And so, there are people that I worked with in the reserves as well as people I knew in New York who were killed,” Connaughton said.
Pentagon Memorial Fund Executive Director Jim Laycheck’s brother, Dave, did not make it out.
“And I can remember even thinking what happens if 10-15 years from now people are driving by the Pentagon and they don’t remember what side got hit because you know, life goes on,” Laycheck told WAVY.
He made it his mission to erect the first 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon.
It opened in 2008, but unlike the memorials in New York and Pennsylvania, it has no education center.
“Quite often we say build it and they will come, well listen, they are already coming that’s why we have to built it,” Connaughton said.
“More than a million visitors a year walk the hallowed ground, but without any context what are they taking away?” Connaughton said. “We see polls that say it was a plane crash, we see social media calling it a plane crash, we see others calling it a bomb.”
An education center, these men say, could put it in perspective. Here, you can see a two-story building design with high-tech, hands-on exhibits that will tell the stories of the people who perished, how the world responded and how it changed after that day.
“You used to be able to go up to the airport and go right up to the gate and get on the plane, you know we’ve got TSA now and Homeland Security, all these things,” Laycheck said.
“We have a very divided nation now and we seem to be mad at each other for everything,” Connaughton said, and as he can attest, timing can make all the difference.
“We have got to teach the next generation that we are much better working together as a community and as a country than we are splitting apart.”
The goal is to have the education center opened by the 25th Anniversary of 9/11.
Their goal is to raise $35 million. So far, they have raised about $15 million.
They are also asking for a federal appropriation.
“No donation is too small and you can can feel good about where your money is going in trying to create something that will be important to future generations,” Laycheck said.