Under a warm morning sun, about 1,000 invited guests gathered in a parking lot by the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial for today’s observance ceremony.
They were mostly family members of victims and survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the Pentagon, as well as some first responders.
Sitting among them was Speaker of the House John Boehner and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld left his office to assist with the relief and rescue efforts. In front of them was the Pentagon Memorial and the rebuilt section of the Pentagon that was a smoldering crater 10 years ago today. A large flag draped the building on the same spot where first responders had unfurled a large flag on the day after the attack.
The Pentagon Memorial consists of 184 benches aligned by ascending age to honor those who perished aboard American Airlines flight 77 and inside the building when it was struck by the airliner. The small pools of running water that lie underneath each bench were turned off today as part of this morning’s Moment of Silence, timed to coincide with the exact time that AA#77 struck the building. Alongside each bench stood a member of one of the military services holding a wreath of white flowers.
Though it was scheduled for 9:37 a.m., the moment of silence actually occurred a few minutes earlier than planned.
The remarks that followed the moment of silence evoked the painful memories of that day and America’s resolve in the face of such tragedy.
Vice President Joe Biden praised the inspiration the families gathered at today’s event had provided to a nation that “hope can grow from tragedy, there can be a second life.”
Biden said that what took place after the plane struck the Pentagon “was far more remarkable than the damage inflicted in the building behind me,” as Pentagon employees and first responders risked their lives to help those trapped by the plane’s impact.
“It’s a basic American instinct to respond to crises when help was needed, to confront the afflicted, and American instinct summoned by the collective strength of the American people that we see come to the floor in our darkest hours,” Biden said.
He said those behind the terrorist attack believed it “could buckle our knees, could bend our will, to begin to break, to break our resolve. But they did not know us.”
“Instead, that same American instinct that sent all of you into the breach between the fourth and fifth corridors, galvanized an entire new generation of patriots,” he said.
“I can say without fear of contradiction or being accused of exaggeration, the 9/11 generation ranks among the greatest our nation has ever produced,” he said. “And it was born, it was born, it was born right here on 9/11.
“The true legacy of 9/11 is that our spirit is mightier,” he said. “The bonds that unite us are thicker, and the resolve is firmer than the millions of tons of limestone and concrete that make up that great edifice behind me. Al Qaeda, bin Laden, never imagined that the 3,000 people who lost their lives that day would inspired 3 million to put on the uniform and harden the resolve of 300 million Americans. They never imagined the sleeping giant they were about to awaken.”
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, praised the families as being “the greatest monument, the most enduring memorial. … You, the families, have shown the rest of us the way, quietly honoring the memory of your loved ones by how you live and what you do.
“These are the things the terrorists could not eradicate,” he said. “They could bring down walls, but they could not bring down America. They could kill our citizens, but they could not kill our citizenship. And in that spirit and with that pride, a whole new generation has been inspired to serve — many of them in uniform.”
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also spoke of how since 9/11 a generation of Americans had “stepped forward to serve in uniform, determined to confront our enemies and respond to them swiftly and justly.”
He said that in the last decade “they have taken on the burden of protecting America, relentlessly pursuing those who would do us harm and threaten our homeland,” ultimately bringing bin Laden to “a fitting end. ”
The ceremony concluded with the service members placing the wreaths one by one on bench they had been standing next to.
As the last of the service members exited the memorial grounds, a lone Army bugler remained to sound Taps, bringing the ceremony to a close.