Pentagon, Washington Ceremonies Honor Attack Victims
President Bush began what he called “a hard day” by attending a service at St. John’s Church in Washington before observing a moment of silence on the South Lawn of the White House at 8:46am, the moment the first hijacked plane hit the World Trade Center a year ago.
The president continued on to the Pentagon, where a crowd of over 13,000 – including cabinet members, military officers and construction personnel – gathered in front of the freshly renovated western wall to attend a memorial ceremony. Silence again, this time at 9:37am, marked the moment when American Airlines Flight 77 plowed into the building, claiming 184 victims.
The flag that had been hung after the attack at the impact site was again unfurled during the ceremony. One hundred children from D.C.-area schools – classmates of children aboard Flight 77 – recited the Pledge of Allegiance along with President Bush.
The president, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard B. Myers spoke at the service.
Addressing the crowd, Rumsfeld said, “The terrorists wanted September 11 to be a day when innocents died. Instead it was a day when heroes were born. The terrorists wanted September 11 to be a day when hatred reigned. Instead it was a day when we witnessed love beyond measure.”
President Bush was the last to approach the podium. He spoke of America’s ongoing commitment to the war on terror.
“What happened to our nation on a September day set in motion the first great struggle of a new century,” the president said. “The enemies who struck us are determined and they are resourceful. They will not be stopped by a sense of decency or a hint of conscience. But they will be stopped.”
Referring to the victims of the Pentagon tragedy, Mr. Bush said, “Though they died in tragedy, they did not die in vain.”
The president also spoke of the Pentagon as a “working building, not a memorial,” applauding the return of employees to offices occupied before the attacks.
Project Phoenix, as the renovation of the Pentagon has been dubbed, was recently completed a month ahead of schedule. The five-story, 2-million-square-foot gash in the building’s western wall was rebuilt at a cost of nearly $700 million. A Wednesday afternoon ceremony honored those who rebuilt the damaged building.
Across the Potomac River in Washington, Bishop Desmond Tutu addressed a memorial service at the National Cathedral, again pausing at 8:46 am to remember the moment of the plane crash.
In an emotional homily, the esteemed anti-apartheid leader asked, “Where was God on that day to let such a horrendous thing happen?”. He then answered his question, saying, “God was right there when the planes hit the target. God was there as the buildings crumbled in the blind choking dust.”
Solicitor General Ted Olson, whose wife was killed when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon, attended the service, sitting with Attorney General John Ashcroft, who also addressed the mourners.
In another of Washington’s commemorative moments, members of Congress are expected to gather on the Capitol steps this afternoon to sing “God Bless America,” as happened spontaneously on Sept. 11, 2001 in a demonstration of solidarity.
At 10:30 am, emergency dispatchers across Washington declared a minute of silence on all police and firefighter radios, ordering all emergency lights turned on.
“It is not how they died, but how they lived that makes them heroes,” a dispatcher said on all channels. “You may now resume transmissions.”