Sept. 11 victim's living memorial

Piney Orchard garden dedicated in honor of Navy officer, neighbor

Anne Arundel

March 10, 2002|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

His young widow watched in silence while the flags' colors were presented, schoolchildren sang patriotic songs and uniformed Navy friends brushed away tears yesterday, as a memorial flag garden was dedicated to honor Navy Lt. Jonas M. Panik, who lost his life at the Pentagon on Sept. 11.

Shaped to resemble the prow of a ship, the small garden in Piney Orchard - the Anne Arundel County community where he lived - marks the loss of a neighbor and husband as well as a military officer.

Pointing to the central cluster of white and purple pansies (flowers that symbolize loving thoughts) surrounded by red nandina shrubs, the designer, Edward Tom, said, "I wanted it to be very personal and intimate, a step away from the noise, hustle and bustle."

During the dedication of the garden in front of the Piney Orchard Community Center, Panik was remembered as an outgoing person who lived his short life - 26 years - to the fullest and died doing something he did well.

Panik, who graduated as a history major from the Naval Academy in 1997, often worked Pentagon shifts from 10 p.m. to 10 a.m., colleagues said, gathering worldwide intelligence to brief his unit's admiral early in the morning.

"The admiral considered him the best morning briefer we had," said Lt. Tim Terry, adding that the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations Intelligence Plot was hit hard by the terrorist attack; seven people from that office were killed.

The associate dean for Naval Academy faculty, Michael C. Halbig, spoke of the "tapestry" of Panik's life - from his hometown of Mingoville, Pa., to his midshipman years in Annapolis when he met his wife, to being commissioned as a naval intelligence officer and serving tours of duty in Virginia Beach and elsewhere. He was stationed at the Pentagon for about a year.

"Jonas had forged golden friendships everywhere he went, from Mingoville, the academy, the fleet, this community," Halbig said. "Everyone loved him like a son or a fallen comrade."

As a faculty member, he said, "In defense of the republic, we're constantly sizing up our students for national command, and Jonas clearly met the mark."

Halbig quoted from a poem about dying young by Archibald MacLeish: "The young no longer speak, but they have a silence that speaks for them at night."

Panik's size - about 6 feet 6 inches and 270 pounds - made him a natural for the academy's football team, friends said.

Mostly, they emphasized his gregarious nature, combined with a sense of purpose.

"He made a lasting impression," said his wife, Jennifer Panik, 27, a native Marylander who plans to stay in her home and continue her career in real estate. The couple, who moved to Piney Orchard in 2000, had no children.

At the end of the dedication, as flags rustled in the wind, she briefly fell into the arms of her father, Tom Dallas.

Some who attended yesterday's event were Piney Orchard residents who said they had not met Panik, but came because they felt a sense of sadness and loss.

Ingar A. Grev, who presided over the service, is also a Naval Academy graduate (Class of 1989) and a fellow Piney Orchard resident, though he never met Panik. Grev said he hoped the garden would be seen as a celebration of Panik's life.

"The community came together to make such a statement. It's a bizarre way to meet your neighbors," said Mike M. Moravec, a highway engineer.

Steven S. Koren, managing director of the 3,000-residence community, said the memorial event gave him pause.

"Mostly I deal with bricks and sticks. Then this, and well, some things are so much more important," Koren said.

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