- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 12, 2009

President Obama on Friday, marking his first commemoration of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as commander in chief, called for Americans to remember and regain the common purpose that galvanized the nation eight years ago.

“Eight Septembers have come and gone. Nearly 3,000 days have passed, almost one for each of those taken from us,” Mr. Obama said, speaking in a driving rain to a small crowd at the Pentagon that included survivors of those killed that day. “But no turning of the seasons can diminish the pain and the loss of that day.”

“On this solemn day, at this sacred hour, once more we pause, once more we pray,” he said while standing just yards from where al Qaeda hijackers flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the military’s nerve center. The crash killed 125 people in the building and 59 on the plane.

The president also talked of renewal, and called for Americans to remember how the nation responded to the acts on the innocent with unity.

“Let us renew our resolve against those who perpetrated this barbaric act. … Let us renew our commitment to all those who serve in our defense. … Let us renew our common purpose.”

In New York City, the ceremonies began at 8:30 a.m. under gray conditions at Zuccotti Park, near the World Trade Center site where two hijacked planes toppled the Twin Towers, killing 2,751 people.

A U.S. flag that flew over ground zero was brought to the stage, and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg asked the crowd for a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., the exact time American Airlines Flight 11 hit the North Tower.

Mr. Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, along with staff, marked the same moment with silence on the White Houses South Lawn.

Jay Winuk, whose younger brother Glenn Winuk, a lawyer and volunteer firefighter, died in the rescue efforts, was among the first surviving family members to address the crowd in New York.

“My little brother is my greatest hero, not just for the way he died but for the way he lived,” he said.

The ceremony included a reading of the victims’ names. The first was that of investment banker Gordon M. Aamoth Jr.

The crowd returned to a moment of silence at 9:03 a.m., the time United Flight 175 hit the South Tower.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. quoted poet Mary Oliver: “Meanwhile, the world goes on.”

In Shanksville, Pa., bells tolled for the 40 people on board United Airlines Flight 93 who died after they realized their plane had been hijacked and they fought to bring the plane down in a field. Investigators think the passengers and crew overwhelmed the hijackers and stopped their effort to crash the plane into the White House or the Capitol.

It was the first ceremony there since a stalemate over land for a permanent memorial was breached.

“The announcement that the land has been obtained and that it was done in a voluntary fashion on the part of the landowners is significant,” said Gordon Felt, a Remsen, N.Y., resident whose brother, Edward, died on Flight 93 and who serves as the president of the families group.

“The local people there are a part of our family. We wanted in no way to burden them or this community,” Mr. Felt said of the cooperation.

Flight 93 families have bonded and moved ahead in their grief, working toward a permanent memorial and park site that will be a fitting tribute to their loved ones. Their efforts over the years have been supported by many local residents in the Shanksville area. They have acted as volunteer ambassadors at a temporary memorial near the crash site, which has seen more than a million visitors thus far.

For a few years, there was a stalemate among the property owners in Somerset County near the crash site, but an agreement was announced in late August by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who called the land acquisition an “important milestone” that will pave the way for construction on the memorial to begin in November.

The federal government is providing $9.5 million toward land purchases from eight Pennsylvania property owners. Extra funds for the $58 million, 2,200-acre memorial project by the U.S. National Park Service are being raised by families and other individual and corporate supporters across the nation.

Later in the day Friday, Mr. and Mrs. Obama volunteered at a Habitat for Humanity job site in Washington, helping to paint the rooms of a newly built house.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also spoke at the Pentagon ceremony.

“Because of the sacrifice of thousands more since that day, we remain a strong and free nation,” said Mr. Gates, referring to the 5,157 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the ongoing wars launched by President Bush in the aftermath of the attacks.

Adm. Mullen said the military remains ready to fight and “absolutely unafraid of the menace of these years.”

Mr. Obama, however, faces growing opposition among the public and members of his own party to sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, where al Qaeda remains active along the border with Pakistan.

Andrea Billups contributed to this report.

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