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Project Phoenix: Pentagon offices rise from rubble

This is the final piece of limestone that completed the repairs to the Pentagon's facade on June 11, 2002. An original piece of the building's facade, it was recovered from the rubble and remains blackened from the September 11 crash and fire.
This is the final piece of limestone that completed the repairs to the Pentagon's facade on June 11, 2002. An original piece of the building's facade, it was recovered from the rubble and remains blackened from the September 11 crash and fire.  


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As the rubble was being removed at the Pentagon after September 11, officials set an ambitious goal: Workers would reoccupy the most severely damaged areas exactly a year following the attack. They beat it by nearly a month.

Employees began moving into the reconstructed offices August 15. The first phase of Project Phoenix, the name given to the task of rebuilding the Pentagon's west side facade and its three outer rings, was deemed a surprising success.

"Many people did not believe this was feasible, and ... we did not think we would make it," said deputy program manager Michael Sullivan in a statement on the project's Web site.

American Airlines Flight 77 -- hijacked by five terrorists -- slammed into the building's west side, barreling underneath offices between the Pentagon's first and second floors. The attack killed 184 airline passengers, crew members and Pentagon workers, both civilian and military.

Mixed feelings on moving back

EXTRA INFORMATION
Gallery: Repair and renovation at the Pentagon 
 

One of the first tenants to move back into the restored outer ring -- known as the E ring -- was Peter Murphy, general counsel to the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Murphy and his staff escaped from the fiery crash site and later noticed that his office was virtually destroyed except for a Marine Corps flag that could be seen teetering on the edge of an abyss of rubble.

Rumsfeld
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, center, was among those that welcomed Pentagon workers back to their repaired and renovated offices on August 15, 2002.  

"I think a lot of people saw it was something inspirational, kind of a Marine Corps spirit," Murphy said. "That there was one little bright spot in the middle of all that mess.

"I have very mixed feelings about [moving back in]," Murphy said. "On the one hand, you cannot help moving back to sections, [and] you do think of all our colleagues who have died or have been horribly injured.

"On the other hand, you look around this magnificent part of the Pentagon that has been reconstructed by the renovation folks, and it has every conceivable safety built in."

Covering 29 acres, the Pentagon is the headquarters of the U.S. Defense Department. One of the largest office buildings in the world, it is the workplace for 23,000 employees, both civilian and military. The five-sided structure was completed in 1943.

The full reconstruction of the 2 million square feet damaged September 11 is scheduled to be complete by spring. The cost to repair the damage is estimated at close to $700 million.

"This building was [originally] built in only 16 months," said project manager Lee Evey. "People could take some pride and solace in the fact that America was doing something dramatic and demonstrating its capabilities, and in the year 2001 we've done the same again."

New safety features for the building

This is the Pentagon office that a Marine Corps flag was salvaged following the September 11 attack. The building collapsed along the far side of this office approximately 300 minutes after the attack. All personnel in this suite escaped unscathed.
This is the Pentagon office that a Marine Corps flag was salvaged following the September 11 attack. The building collapsed along the far side of this office approximately 300 minutes after the attack. All personnel in this suite escaped unscathed.  

Project Phoenix began with the demolition of 400,000 square feet of the damaged structure at the crash site and then switched to reconstruction.

Evey said many changes were made to the destroyed part of the building. "We did two things after September 11," Evey said. "One, we worked doing an analysis of the building, the physical structure and how it performed and how we can improve things.

"We also interviewed the people -- especially the people very close to the incident."

Among the improvements were bright exit signs placed low on the walls and designed to be seen easily through thick smoke, even when electric power is cut off.

The changes also included additions that Evey labeled as "no exit" signs.

"It was not until we talked with people who said, 'I was crawling on my hands and knees, and I thought this is the way out so I went through that doorway and found out I'd entered another office. There was no exit from that office, and I just wasted valuable, precious time, and it made it that much more difficult to escape the building,' " Evey said.

During a June 11 ceremony celebrating the placement of the facade's final stone, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz placed in the wall a simple bronze box containing memorabilia as a permanent reminder of the victims.

Carved into that final stone are the words "September 11, 2001."

The stone was recovered from the burning west section of the Pentagon. It was not cleaned and remains blackened with the soot from the explosion and fire.

The box "honors those who died here and in New York and Pennsylvania," Wolfowitz said.

"Those Americans died because of how they lived as free men and women proud of their country, and they died because they were Americans -- because of them we will not only rebuild, we will be better than we were before," he said.

The box is much like a time capsule, but there are no plans to open it.

Among the items in the capsule were two handmade cards from students representing thousands sent to the Pentagon after the attacks; a book with the names of people across the country thanking members of the military; patches from the Arlington County, Virginia, fire and police departments as well as Defense Department Police; and a photo signed by President Bush depicting him and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon after the attack.

Also included were a program from an October 11 memorial service at the Pentagon, a plaque with the names of the 184 victims of the attack and a patch with the motto "Let's roll," the slogan borrowed by Pentagon construction crews from United Airlines Flight 93.

The president signed a copy of his September 20 address to Congress. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, each gave a bronze coin representing their offices.

A permanent memorial inside the Pentagon to the victims was unveiled in May. It includes biographies of those who were killed and names of victims engraved on a wall, much like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Among the victims honored were Lt. Gen. Timothy Maude, 53, the highest ranking officer killed in the attacks; Max Bielke, 69, the last official U.S. combat soldier to leave Vietnam; and Matthew Flocco, 21, of the U.S. Navy, whose father, a construction worker, has helped to rebuild the Pentagon.

Another memorial is planned outside the Pentagon near where the plane slammed into the building. The design calls for a freestanding structure that is accessible to the public yet set away from the building for security reasons.

-- CNN Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre and CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr contributed to this report.