On Sept. 11, 2001, Dana Falkenberg, just 3, went through security with her parents and big sister at Dulles International Airport on her way to Australia, where her mom, a professor at Georgetown University, had been named a visiting fellow to the National University in Canberra.
She never made it. That crisp, sunny morning, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the western wall of the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m., killing 125 people in the building and all 59 on board, including five al Qaeda terrorists who had walked through the same security with knives and box cutters.
But Dana’s memory now lives forever just feet from where her mother died, at a powerfully sublime memorial dedicated on Thursday by President Bush.
“Each year on this day, our thoughts return to this place. Here, we remember those who died. And here, on this solemn anniversary, we dedicate a memorial that will enshrine their memory for all time,” he said.
On Thursday, the seventh anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, a bell tolled solemnly in New York City, one time for each of the 2,674 people killed when terrorists crashed two jetliners into the World Trade Center. And on the cool, gray day across the Northeast, the two presidential candidates put aside politics for a day of reverent remembrance.
Republican Sen. John McCain laid a wreath beside a granite marker at a somber ceremony in Shanksville, Pa., which commemorates the 40 Americans killed there after passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 rushed the cockpit to thwart terrorists’ apparent plans to strike either the White House or U.S. Capitol.
“I’ve had the great honor and privilege to witness great courage and sacrifice for America’s sake, but none greater than the sacrifice of those good people, who grasped the gravity of the moment and understood the threat and decided to fight back at the cost of their lives,” said Mr. McCain, who spent five years in a prisoner of war camp in Vietnam.
Later Thursday, Mr. McCain and Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama walked side by side down a ramp into the pit that marks ground zero in New York City to silently lay flowers at a makeshift memorial.
“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,” Mr. Obama said in a morning statement.
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, which will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, features 184 cantilevered steel benches topped with granite; underneath, small pools of water reflect light off the polished underside of the benches.
Dana’s bench is the first visitors will see.
• VIDEO: Dedication ceremony for the Pentagon’s memorial
“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.
Mr. Bush, whose presidency was transformed on that day seven years ago, said American troops have fought to ensure the nation’s safety, taking no credit for himself.
“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.
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 taps as firefighters unfurled an American flag, draping it over the site where Flight 77 crashed into the building.
Mr. Bush, who observed a moment of silence on the White House South Lawn at 8:46 a.m. - the moment the first plane struck the World Trade Center - said visitors to the $22 million memorial “will learn that this generation of Americans met its duty. We did not tire, we did not falter, and we did not fail.”
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.
“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 Sept. 11.”
In a simple plaza among young Paperbark maple trees, which turn a deep red late in fall, 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.
The dead ranged in age from 3-year-old Dana Falkenberg to John Yamnicky, 71.
The two presidential candidates, meanwhile, agreed to halt television advertising for the day and appeared at Columbia University, one after the other, last night to talk about public service. But Mr. Obama included a subtle dig at Mr. Bush in his statement, 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, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, has never been captured and is thought to be hiding in caves near the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
On the windswept hill in Shanksville, Mr. McCain asked those attending the ceremony “to be as good an American as they were.”
“Hundreds if not thousands of people who worked in that building when that fateful moment occurred would have been destroyed along with a beautiful symbol of our freedom. They, and very possibly I, owe our lives to the passengers who summoned the courage and love necessary to deprive our depraved and hateful enemies of a terrible triumph,” Mr. McCain said.
Mr. Obama’s running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., spoke at an American Legion post in suburban Cleveland with an audience of area police, firefighters and other first responders. Republican vice-presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin was in her home state of Alaska, attending an Army ceremony to send her eldest son, Track, off to duty in Iraq.
At ground zero, the two presidential candidates walked down a long ramp flanked with national flags, chatting at times, silent other times.
At the bottom of the ramp, the two rivals stopped to talk with a small group of family members of the attacks’ victims of seven years ago. They laid flowers at the pit’s commemorative reflecting pool and bowed their heads and walked off to speak with fire and police personnel.
They talked quietly on a sidewalk afterward, shaking hands before parting, with Mr. Obama patting Mr. McCain several times on the back.
• Timothy Warren at the Pentagon and Christina Bellantoni, traveling with Mr. Obama, contributed to this report.