- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2008


President Bush dedicated a sublime Pentagon memorial Thursday to the 184 people killed there on Sept. 11, 2001, as a bell tolled solemnly in New York City, one time for each of the 2,674 people killed when terrorists two crashed jetliners into the World Trade Center buildings.

At the Pentagon, a sailor rang a bell for each of the victims killed there when Flight 77 crashed into the building’s outer ring. The new memorial features 184 cantilevered steel benches topped with granite; underneath, small pools of water reflect light of the polished underside of the benches.

“The benches here bear each of their names and beneath each bench is a shimmering pool filled with the water of life, a testament to those who were taken from us and to their memories that will live on in our hearts,” Mr. Bush said.

“As we walk among the benches, we will remember there could have been many more lives lost. On a day when buildings fell, heroes rose. Pentagon employees ran into smoke-filled corridors to guide their friends to safety. Firefighters rushed up the stairs of the World Trade Center as the towers neared collapse. Passengers aboard Flight 93 charged the cockpit and laid down their lives to spare countless others,” he said.

On one side of a Pentagon parking lot, nearly 3,000 flags flew to mark all the lives lost on Sept. 11.

A Marine Corps bugler atop the Pentagon’s roof played a rendition of “Taps” as firefighters unfurled an American flag, draping it over the site where Flight 77 crashed into the building.

Former Defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who refused to leave the burning building seven years ago, joined the president and a host of dignitaries for the dedication of the memorial. He said the Pentagon marked the site “where a great building became a battlefield.”

“This building stands as a silent monument to the resolve of a free people,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “So, too, this memorial in its shadow will stand not only as a symbol of the nation’s grief but as an eternal reminder of men and women of valor, who saw flame and smoke, step forward to save the lives of their fellow Americans on September 11.”

In a simple plaza with young trees, 59 benches look out over the skyline to symbolize the people killed aboard the plane, some of whom made desperate phone calls to loved ones just before crashing into the Pentagon. Another 125 are positioned so that visitors will see the building when reading the victim’s name, to represent those killed inside, ranging in age from 3-year-old Dana Falkanberg to John Yamnicky, 71.

From the memorial, the rebuilt section of the Pentagon is clearly visible, the new limestone a slightly lighter shade than the old. Planes coming in to nearby Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport fly low and loud along the Potomac River.

“It’s a great feeling of accomplishment,” said Jim Laychak, the president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund, who helped to raise the $22 million for construction and is still looking for another $10 million to pay for the memorial’s upkeep. Mr. Laychak’s brother, David Laychak, was killed during the attack on the Pentagon.

“Today is a day to celebrate life,” Mr. Laychak said. “When I look around I can see the beauty of life. I hope family members, when they walk along the trees and benches, they can make a special connection with the ones they lost.”

Amid strains of bagpipes and choirs, relatives of the victims, dignitaries and Pentagon employees watched from stands overlooking the memorial on grounds near the crash site on the east side of the building. Defense Secretary Robert Gates stressed that the memorial will serve as a reminder for younger generations of what happened at the Pentagon.

“From this time forward, [the Pentagon] will be known more than just as a place of power and of government,” Mr. Gates said. “We know what took place here, and it’s hard to grasp.”

The two presidential candidates put aside politics for a day of remembrance, with Republican John McCain laying wreaths at a somber ceremony in Shanksville, Pa., to commemorate the 40 Americans who were killed there after passengers of Flight 93 rushed the cockpit to thwart terrorists’ plans to strike the White House or U.S. Capitol.

Later Thursday, Sen. McCain and Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama will walk together down a ramp into the pit that marks Ground Zero to lay a wreath, and the pair will appear together tonight to talk about public service. The two campaigns agreed to halt television advertising for the day.

Mr. Obama issued a morning statement on the anniversary.

“On 9/11, Americans across our great country came together to stand with the families of the victims, to donate blood, to give to charity, and to say a prayer for our country. Let us renew that spirit of service and that sense of common purpose,” he said.

But he also included a subtle dig at Mr. Bush, saying “Let us remember that the terrorists responsible for 9-11 are still at large, and must be brought to justice.” The mastermind of the attacks, Osama bin Laden, has never been captured and is believed to be hiding in caves near the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

On a windswept hill in Shanksville, Mr. McCain asked those attending the ceremony “to be as good an America.”

He said passengers aboard the flight, including Todd Bemer, who moments before they rushed the cockpit said, “Let’s roll!” might have saved his own life, as some believe the terrorists wanted to crash the plane into the U.S. Capitol.

Mr. Obama’s running mate, Joe Biden, was going to an American Legion post in suburban Cleveland with an invitation-only gathering of area police, firefighters and other first-responders. Republican vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, was in her home state of Alaska, attending an Army ceremony to send her eldest son, Track, off to duty in Iraq.

Mr. Bush, whose presidency was transformed seven years ago after the worst terrorist attacks on America, said U.S. troops have fought to ensure the nation’s safety.

“Thanks to the brave men and women, and all those who work to keep us safe, there has not been another attack on our soil in 2,557 days,” he said.

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