- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 12, 2002

Heads snapped around nervously when four F-16 fighter jets shattered the peaceful moment of benediction at yesterday's Pentagon observance.
The unmuffled engines of the D.C. Air National Guard F-16s punctuated the ceremony to dedicate the "Phoenix Project," the rebuilding of the hub of the U.S. defense command-and-control center after it was smashed a year ago by hijacked American Airlines Flight 77. The attack killed 189 persons, including the five hijackers.
When the jet roar began to build, the crowd was singing "God Bless America," with President and Mrs. Bush waving tiny American flags like metronomes keeping time with the music.
Seconds before, chief Navy chaplain Rear Adm. Barry Black recalled Todd Beamer's "Let's roll" order that signaled the passenger rebellion on United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in a Pennsylvania field.
"Lord, let us roll," Adm. Black said, drawing a greater ovation than speeches by the president, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Despite several warnings about the planned F-16 tribute, the sudden appearance of the jets seemed to startle some in the crowd.
The morning quiet was preserved by closing Runway 33 at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Airliners departing every few minutes on Runway 1 stayed to the north, generally out of earshot. Rooftop security forces watched for intruders, and surface-to-air missile crews stood by loaded weapons.
The F-16 flyby sparked supportive yells, the waving of thousands of flags and thunderous applause as the fighters roared by and peeled off to the west.
"It says much about our nation and the fierceness and resilience of the American people that, were we not here now in this solemn ceremony, a visitor passing would see no hint of the terrible events that took place here but one year ago today," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
About 13,000 people were invited to the ceremony, including 2,000 relatives of the dead. The families were seated front and center wearing passes on distinctive red, white and blue lanyards. Most arrived in a police-escorted caravan of more than a dozen buses, lumbering along highways that closed for four hours while people at the Pentagon paid homage.
"It's hard to realize. Last year at this time was one of the happiest times of our lives," said a tearful Floyd Rasmussen, whose wife of 27 years, Rhonda, was killed in an office 100 feet from his Pentagon office that day.
Military chaplains and doctors circulated in the audience, ready to offer help.
"We have to be in the crowd, to be a presence if somebody is having a hard time, to be a comfort and to do what we can if the ceremony opens the old wounds," said Army Lt. Col. Glenn Davis, a Protestant chaplain from Marietta, Ga.
What Mr. Bush, whose speech was interrupted nine times by applause, said, "The murder of innocents cannot be explained, only endured. And though they died in tragedy, they did not die in vain."
Mr. Bush led 100 children from four schools that lost pupils on Flight 77 in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
But the president seemed subdued, leaving stemwinder duties to Gen. Myers, who railed at a "few murderous fanatics" who immortalized yesterday's date.
Gen. Myers recalled that September 11 also is the anniversary of the first battle ever won under the U.S. flag at Brandywine, Pa., in 1777 and the 61st anniversary of the day construction of the Pentagon started.
"Just like at the battle of Brandywine, our flag will fly free. We will be victorious," Gen. Myers told an audience hungry for such fighting words. "The terrorists sought to instill fear. Instead our nation responded with resolve."
Gen. Myers thanked victims' families, rescuers, military forces that took the fight to terrorists in Afghanistan and "the hard-hat patriots of the Phoenix Project," which brought rousing applause.
"You did more than rebuild our windows and walls. You repaired our souls," Gen. Myers told workers who labored around the clock to restore the Pentagon's appearance and outer ring of offices more quickly than expected and under budget.
There was one glitch in a program tightly scripted to mesh with events in Shanksville, Pa., and New York City.
At 9:38 a.m., after a minute of silence marking when the Pentagon's west wall was crushed, a large flag was lowered down the rebuilt wall to re-enact a vignette that inspired the nation.
Twice the stiff west wind blew the 60-pound flag back onto the roof.
Mr. Rumsfeld laughed and wiped his brow after the first time it happened during the national anthem.
Flags and Pentagon-shaped lapel pins were given out with programs, but thousands of people already had received tiny flags handed out by employees of the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center hotel on Seminary Road.
"We brought about 50,000 flags," said hotel credit manager Maher Fouad, an Egyptian who was among those giving flags to Pentagon employees going to work instead of the ceremony. Hotel workers gave out another 50,000 flags at the Capitol.
A contingent of 300 American Airlines employees, including uniformed flight-crew members, came to honor the crew of Flight 77: Capt. Charles Burlingame, pilot; David Charlebois, first officer; and flight attendants Michele Heidenberger, Renee May, Kenneth Lewis and his wife, Jennifer Lewis.
"Last year, because of my work schedule, I was not able to attend, so I came today," said Capt. Jim Baker, an American Airlines pilot based in Chicago.
This is unlikely to be the last September 11 observance, said Victoria Clarke, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. "I'm sure there will always be a commemoration here of 9/11."

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