Support for the tours, both from within and without the Pentagon, was so strong that they were made a permanent fixture. By July 1996, the Pentagon had welcomed its 2 millionth visitor and broken an all-time annual visitor record in December of that same year. By 2012, 3 million had toured the building.
The tour format has changed somewhat over the years. A 1982 article in The New York Times explained that contemporary tours began with a film detailing some of the early history of the Pentagon.
Today, the tour begins at the Pentagon Visitor Center, which includes a gift shop and restrooms you’ll likely want to avail yourself of before setting off with the tour group and guide. Visitors cannot return to the Visitor Center once the tour has finished. The tour route is approximately 1.5 miles in length and takes about 60 minutes to walk, with the group constantly in motion.
Contrary to what you might imagine, there is no set route. Tours vary with security considerations, construction, or time restraints. Guides are aware of these factors and tailor the tours to suit whatever constraints may exist. However, they have the latitude to take visitors through such a multitude of sections that there’s always something interesting to see.
Naturally, there are common highlights.
One of these is the America’s Heroes Memorial, which commemorates the 9/11 attack of 2001. The damage done by the airliner that was flown into the Pentagon required demolition and reconstruction of the three outer rings of five floors on the west side of the building. The memorial is located in the vicinity of 1E438, the pinpoint location where American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the structure.
Visitors will likely see the Hall of Heroes. Located on the main concourse, it was opened on May 14, 1968. Along the walls of the room the names of each of the 3,400-plus recipients of the Medal of Honor from all service branches are arranged for recognition.
It opened in September 2002, and includes a book of photographs and biographies of the victims. It also includes five large black acrylic panels that honor the 184 victims of the crash. One panel displays the Purple Heart medal awarded to military members killed in the attacks; another shows the medal given to civilians. Two back-wall panels are etched with the victims’ names and a center panel bears tribute statements. Pencils and commemorative tracing paper are available, so that visitors can make rubbings of the names. A small chapel adjacent has stained glass windows with patriotic designs.
Visitors will likely see the Hall of Heroes. Located on the main concourse, it was opened on May 14, 1968. Along the walls of the room the names of each of the 3,400-plus recipients of the Medal of Honor from all service branches are arranged for recognition. Some have an asterisk denoting service members who received two Medals of Honor for two separate acts of bravery. Ceremonies for new recipients of the Medal of Honor are held there, as are other award ceremonies.
The Navy Reflection Room may be on the tour as well. Before 9/11, it was the site of the Navy Operations Center, destroyed during the attack. Opened on Sept. 11, 2003, the memorial features a large stone monolith, donated by the Pentagon Renovation Program, bearing the header “Lest We Forget” and the names of the Navy family members being commemorated. Inscribed in an adjacent wall is an excerpt from World War I poet Laurence Binyon’s “For the Fallen.” Nearby is a limestone reflection bench, also donated by the Pentagon Renovation Program.