WASHINGTON - Four years and nine months after a hijacked airliner slammed into the Pentagon on September 11, work began today on a memorial near the crash site to honour the victims of the attack, due to be completed in 2008.
"Today marks a positive outcome from a tragic day," Jim Laychak, who heads a private group raising money for the memorial and whose brother David was killed in the attack, said during a ceremony under sunny skies marking the start of construction.
The memorial on the west lawn of the Pentagon is designed to include 184 metal benches, one honouring each victim, and dozens of maple trees. It will be financed largely from private donations.
The memorial site, located 50 metres from the place where American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon, measures 0.8ha.
Officials said about US$10.8 ($17.32) million of the US$22 million construction cost has been raised. Laychak's group also hopes to raise a further US$10 million for future maintenance.
The benches will sit above reflecting pools of water, and will be organised in a timeline of the victims' ages, spanning from 3-year-old Dana Falkenberg to 71-year-old John Yamnicky.
"Today we claim this ground for them," Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said of the victims, "for their families and for the brave servicemen and women who have volunteered to go out and meet our nation's enemies and to keep our country safe". Laychak told an audience including other relatives of victims, lawmakers and members of President George W. Bush's Cabinet, "Today let's remember what was special about all those we lost."
The memorial is due to be completed in September 2008.
US authorities have said five al Qaeda hijackers seized control of the flight from Washington Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia bound for Los Angeles, and flew the Boeing 757 into the Pentagon with a huge fireball.
Part of the massive US military headquarters burned and collapsed, but has since been reconstructed.
Killed were 125 people inside the Pentagon, 59 passengers and crew members, and the five hijackers.
Three other hijacked airliners crashed into the World Trade Centre in New York City and in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Memorials also are planned at those sites.
About 3000 people were killed in the 2001 attacks.