- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2003

At 9:37 yesterday morning, more than 400 family members and friends stood in silence in Arlington National Cemetery to honor the memory of 184 persons killed when a terrorist-hijacked airliner crashed into the Pentagon at that exact time two years ago.

“We gather here today to honor the heroes that sleep in these hills,” Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said from a clearing atop a slope in the 624-acre cemetery, where 285,000 are interred. The Pentagon, where they died, could be barely seen through the trees behind his right shoulder.

Mr. Rumsfeld was especially speaking about 64 military and civilian personnel who died at the Pentagon and are buried at Arlington. The remaining 120 victims were buried are various sites throughout the country.

“They were heroes because they lived lives of duty and service to their country,” said Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “They are all heroes because they lived their lives as free Americans.”

Minutes later, the two leaders walked to one side of the families and friends to lay a wreath on a granite marker bearing five plaques engraved with 184 names.

The remains of 50 of the 64 victims buried at Arlington are grouped under rows of nearby tombstones. Eight others are in the columbarium — a wall containing remains — and four are in graves throughout the cemetery.

Except for the disaster, yesterday was reminiscent of September 11, 2001. The sun was shining brightly. The temperature was a balmy 70 degrees. Family members and friends wore sunglasses or shaded their eyes with the “Patriot Day Observance” programs.

Mr. Rumsfeld reminded the audience that the attacks two years ago on the Pentagon and World Trade Towers in New York City, and the plane crash into a field in Shanksville, Pa., killed more than 3,000 people and sparked the war on terrorism.

“We know if we don’t fight the terrorists over there, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, we will have to fight them over here,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.

“Freedom is the birthright of every American,” he said, adding that the war on terrorism will shine the “light of liberty” on people living under the reign of dictators.

“This war on terrorism will be a long, hard struggle,” said Gen. Myers.

The general pointed out that some American Airlines employees were in the audience and extended a welcome to them. They were friends of the Flight 77 crew that was killed when terrorists smashed their plane into the Pentagon two years ago.

Navy Chaplain Robert Beltram prayed that the fight against terrorists might “unite the people of the world for peace.”

Cmdr. Beltram said, “Even the most eloquent words are inadequate to express the feelings and thoughts on this occasion. They are all heroes … because they lived their lives as free Americans.”

The U.S. Marine Band played smooth, slow tunes, including hymns, at the start of the program. Military members saluted and the audience stood with hands over their hearts as the “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played.

Concluding the half-hour Patriot Day memorial, the band played “Faith of Our Fathers” then accompanied Army Sgt. Bob McDonald in the singing of “America the Beautiful.”

The audience, which included at least one infant and a dozen preschool youngsters, was solemnly quiet throughout. There was no applauding. Friends greeted each other with smiles, hugs and fervent handshakes.

Occasionally, but not during the most solemn moments, airliners droned overhead after takeoffs from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

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