A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Honoring the Fallen

By Leah Kerkman Fogarty on October 1, 2008

On that tragic day in September seven years ago, we all felt a sense of loss. We were scared and vulnerable, full of sympathy and remorse. But some, such as Jim Laychak, BS Accounting ’83 and BS Decision Sciences ’83, experienced an even greater loss. His brother, David, a civilian working for the Army at the Pentagon, died in the September 11 attacks.

But Laychak pledged to make something positive come out of that catastrophe. So for the past four years, he’s been spending most of his time heading up the Pentagon Memorial Fund, which is the fund-raising arm for the Arlington site that will honor the 184 lives that were lost when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.

“Everything I’ve done in my life has helped me take on this role,” says Laychak. His degree in accounting readied him to understand budgets and annual reports, he says. His current job, a partner of the consulting firm Accenture, is focused on running and managing large-scale programs, another transferrable skill. And as president of the Mason Alumni Association from 2000 to 2002, he received a crash course on public speaking and fund raising—two areas that uniquely prepared him for his job as president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund.

“How could I not volunteer for the job? Knowing everything that I know about this, I had to help out,” Laychak says of his role at the fund. “And I know my brother would’ve done the same thing for me.”

Funny then, that with such a specialized background, Laychak says, “I didn’t know where my career path would lead.” He double-majored in accounting and decision sciences simply because he had an affinity for it. “You’ve got to have a passion for what you want to do,” Laychak stresses. “You should be thinking, ‘Thank God it’s Monday.’”

That enthusiasm has paid off. So far, he has helped raise about $21 million for the memorial. The goal is $32 million, with $22 million going toward the construction and $10 million establishing an endowment that will help pay for the memorial’s maintenance. The design, chosen from more than 1,000 entries, is simple yet powerful: 184 granite-topped, stainless steel benches, one for each of the victims, occupy nearly two acres on the west side of the Pentagon. Reflecting pools and 90 paperbark maples are scattered among the benches to foster a comforting atmosphere.

When it was dedicated on September 11, 2008, the Pentagon Memorial Park was the first of the three national monuments to open. “It’s been one of the biggest accomplishments of my life,” Laychak says.

For more information on the fund or to donate, visit www.pentagonmemorial.com.

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