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At Pentagon, smiles mix with tears for 9/11 victims
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.
"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.
"The wounds are still present, emotions are still raw," he said. "But the entire country found inspiration, resistance and resolve."
The events in New York, Washington and outside Shanksville, Pa., where a fourth hijacked plane was brought down by passengers and crew, were carried out amid high security, after federal officials reportedly received a tip about a possible car-bomb plot.
The commemoration at the Pentagon was just one of several events that took place across the region.
In the District, Mayor Vincent. C. Gray participated in a Day of Service at Freedom Plaza, outside city hall and just blocks from the White House. The event was co-sponsored by the 9/11 Families group.
An afternoon 9/11 Unity Walk drew hundreds of people of all faiths to the Washington Hebrew Congregation, where Rabbi Bruce Lustig told the crowd that the area has a strong interfaith bond among its many religious groups.
"The terrorists changed America on 9/11, but only we would determine how," he said. "We can choose hope over fear, light over darkness."
Events scheduled for the Washington National Cathedral had to be moved because of damage from the recent earthquake.
At the Newseum, visitors lined the sidewalks outside the journalism museum to see the front pages of newspapers 10 years later. The Chicago Tribune ran the headline "We remember," with a photograph of the smoldering New York site from Sept. 12, 2001. The front page from the Arizona Republic featured memories from readers summed up in six words, such as: "Angry that they changed my life."
A candlelight service was scheduled for Sunday night at the First Baptist Church of the City in Northwest, to commemorate the lives of D.C. residents, students, teachers and chaperones killed in the attacks. It also highlighted the service and commitment of first responders.
In addition, the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History hosted a ceremony with the Transportation Security Administration.
In Maryland, Gov. Martin O'Malley was scheduled to attend a dedication ceremony at the still-under-construction 9/11 Memorial of Maryland.
In Virginia, a memorial stair climb was held at the SunTrust Bank building, in Richmond. And hundreds participated in a Freedom Walk at Arlington National Cemetery to support military families.
"When you walk in here, you realize each headstone has its story," said Vivian Dietrich of Northern Virginia, who helped organize the walk and whose husband survived the Pentagon attack.
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About the Author
Meredith Somers is a Metro reporter for The Washington Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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