Volume XVII, Issue 37 # September 10 - September 16, 2009

Sit a Spell and Remember

Benches on the North Beach boardwalk commemorate eight Naval Intelligence workers lost in the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon

by Bonnie Lefkowitz

The North Beach boardwalk is a good place for sweeping views of the Chesapeake, clear across to Tilghman Island and the mouth of the Choptank River. There are borders of flowers, fish to catch and plenty of room for dogwalkers and joggers.

CDR Dan Shanower killed by cowards on 9/11/2001 Freedom Isn’t Free

And reason to sit a spell and remember. Walk along the long pier that juts out into the Bay and look at the plaques on the memorial benches. You may notice that most of the dates are the same: September 11, 2001.

Six of the benches on the pier and two more at Chestnut Street, near the boardwalk’s beginning at First Street, honor members of a single Naval Intelligence team at the Pentagon lost in the terrorist attacks. Two local women, one from North Beach who worked on the team, the other from Chesapeake Beach and married to a surviving team member, conceived the memorial. Both prefer to remain in the background, but one agreed to share her memories. They bring back a time of shock and horror that was nonetheless a time of unity.

A Unit Lost and Remembered

“We were all working on intelligence communications, and we had moved into the newly renovated Naval Command Center only two weeks before,” the North Beacher remembers.

Ironically, the team had been scattered at different sites. The move cost the lives of the eight at work in the new offices on September 11, 2001. When the plane hit, some of the staff were elsewhere; one missed the explosion by minutes because he had stopped to talk on the other side of the Pentagon.

After the attacks, the remaining members worked around the clock for over a week to reconstitute their team’s work.

“We were very close. No one left until they threw us out,” she says. “Then we began to think about how to honor our colleagues.”

The Chesapeake Beacher recalled that the town of North Beach had started a memorial bench program the year before. It seemed fitting that Navy employees — three active duty and five civilians, including one woman — be remembered in a spot where sea breezes blow and the water sparkles in the sunlight. The inscription on one of the benches, dedicated to Lieutenant Darin H. Pontell, reads Warm summer sun shine kindly here.

Another, to Commander Dan Shanower, who had been in charge of the group, has a starker message: Killed by cowards on 9/11/2001 … Freedom Isn’t Free. And perhaps the most poignant: Julian T. Cooper, Pentagon 9/11/01. Father of Julianah, born 3/3/02.

“We asked the families for whatever inscription they wanted,” the North Beacher explains. “We raised the money for the first two benches, and then one of our vendors, the Tandberg Corporation, funded the rest.”

Living with the Memory

After Hurricane Isabel ravaged the waterfront in September 2002, “The boardwalk looked like a roller coaster, but the benches were not damaged,” says Richard Ball, waterfront director for the town of North Beach. He’s currently creating a map of all the benches, including the Pentagon memorials.

In the early years, the women placed roses on each of the eight benches the night before the 9/11 anniversary. “The flowers would be there when I came to work at five in the morning,” Ball says.

In recent years, remembrance seems closer to home. “I like to take my kids to get ice cream at the Dairy Freez on Chestnut and Chesapeake,” says the North Beacher, who now works for another government agency. “Then we sit down on the benches nearby and think about Jerry Moran and Angela Houtz.”