At Pentagon, smiles mix with tears for 9/11 victims

Chin Sok Wells of McKinney, Texas, kisses his 10-week-old baby, Cristian, on his wife, Cathy's lap as they gather around the memorial bench of his sister, Army Spc. Chin Sun Pak Wells, who was killed in the Pentagon attacks, as the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks are observed at the Pentagon outside Washington on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)Chin Sok Wells of McKinney, Texas, kisses his 10-week-old baby, Cristian, on his wife, Cathy’s lap as they gather around the memorial bench of his sister, Army Spc. Chin Sun Pak Wells, who was killed in the Pentagon attacks, as the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks are observed at the Pentagon outside Washington on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

The ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the Pentagon began long before the more than 1,000 survivors, family members and others would arrive, when organizers in the early dawn unfurled a U.S. flag next to the spot where the hijacked plane hit the building.

“Lives ended in this place, dreams were shattered, futures were instantly altered and hopes tragically dashed,” said Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, standing a short distance from where a decade ago a flag hung next to the gaping, charred hole left by American Airlines Flight 77. Terrorists “could bring down our walls but they could not bring down America.”

The ceremony began at 9:30 a.m. with a flag presentation, the singing of the national anthem and a prayer, then a moment of silence at 9:37 a.m. — the exact time the hijacked plane hit the southwestern facade of the Pentagon, killing 184 people.

The only sounds heard were the quiet clicks of camera shutters and the distant rumble of a departing airplane.

The warm, late-summer morning was full of tears, embraces and proud smiles for the roughly 1,350 family members, friends and survivors who gathered beside the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial to remember the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. (right), Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta (center) and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, participate in a ceremony on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, at the Pentagon to honor victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

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Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. (right), Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta ... more >

“This lets families know that those lives were of value, whether they were on the plane or in the building,” said Shirley Winston, a Florida visitor who was wearing a T-shirt with a photograph of her sister-in-law and Pentagon attack victim Angelene C. Carter.

Other guests also wore items to honor a loved one lost in the smoke and fire, including red-white-and-blue ribbons and pins bearing photographs of the deceased.

Dressed in a sleeveless black sheath, Lisa Dolan wore her husband Capt. Robert E. Dolan Jr.’s C lass of 1981 Naval Academy ring around her neck, the only item found that belonged to the father of two.

Mrs. Dolan said she comes to the memorial every year and that this year’s ceremony of placing a wreath on each victim’s memorial bench brought special meaning.

“Everyone has a family and a special story to tell,” she said.

Mrs. Dolan also said that keeping the memories alive is important for children too young to know about the tragic day.

Adm. Mullen was joined by Vice President Joseph R. Biden and Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, who each talked about the importance of remembering those who gave their lives and about the men and women inspired to join the military after the attacks.

“It’s hard to come back,” Mr. Biden said. “My prayer for you 10 years later is that when you think of them, it brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye. … Your presence gives hope to thousands of Americans trying to come to grips with this. Three thousand lives lost … inspired 3 million to put on a uniform.”

President Obama attended morning ceremonies in New York where two other hijacked planes hit the twin World Trade Center towers, killing nearly 3,000 people. He was scheduled to attend an event Sunday night at the Kennedy Center in Washington.

Mr. Panetta asked those at the Pentagon to recall 10 years ago, when people were scrambling to safety or rescuing the wounded.

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