Two forms of identification were required for my tour of The Pentagon. I used my driver’s license and my Dollywood Season Pass. The tour was arranged for the members of the FBI Knoxville Citizens’ Academy Alumni Association who had made the trip to Washington, D.C. There will be no pictures to accompany this blog post. As soon as I stepped out of the Metro station, I saw the “No Photography” sign. We passed through the metal detectors and waited for our tour guide to give us a security briefing. Once the tour started, there would be no eating, drinking or bathroom breaks because we could not be left unaccompanied.
Pentagon tour guides walk backwards the entire time. The tour lasts about an hour, which is less time than it would take to see everything. The tour guides memorize a script for all the possible sights and then steer their group to see as much as they can in the time limit. They might change course if another group is in the way. Our guide took us through a hallway decorated with a series of displays honoring the ANZUS Treaty. After that, we walked through a hallway decorated with exhibits of non-military actions such as famine relief, the Korean orphan airlift and assistance provided to victims after natural disasters of every type around the world.
The most significant part of our Pentagon tour was a visit to the September 11th memorial chapel, on the inside of the building at the site of the attack. The names of the Flight 77 and Pentagon victims were engraved in marble. Sheets of parchment and pencils were available for family members who wished to make a rubbing of their loved one’s name. The hallways leading to the chapel were lined with framed quilts, most made by schoolchildren. There were dozens of quilts on view and even more quilts that are in storage. The display quilts occasionally get rotated with those in storage.
In the center of the Pentagon is a courtyard that is the military’s largest no hat, no salute zone. It is big enough to contain the U.S. Capitol. We were told that during the Cold War, the Soviets watched the courtyard from their spy satellites. They saw many people going in and out of a wooden structure in the center and were convinced that it hid the entry to an underground bunker. As the story goes, they pointed their missiles at the small building, making it the world’s most dangerous hot dog stand.