18,500 share their grief at the Pentagon

Bush to mourners: Nation won't forget cruel acts of Sept. 11

War On Terrorism : The Nation

October 12, 2001|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The list of the dead took so long to scroll across large screens in a memorial service at the Pentagon yesterday that the military band had to perform "Amazing Grace" on a kind of loop, filling in with solos, adding new harmonies and returning to the chorus again and again, until the last victim's name finally faded to black.

But, for some family members at the service, a name was all that was left. The devastation at the site of the terrorist strike was so complete that some of the 189 victims were lost without a trace.

The somber roll call was one of many moments of mourning as the country marked the one-month anniversary of the devastation in New York and Washington. At the Pentagon ceremony, President Bush and top defense officials reaffirmed their resolve in the military campaign under way, while relatives and friends remembered the victims in quiet grief.

Under a cobalt sky, men and women in uniform snapped to attention and threw up salutes as a trumpeter played "Taps"; the rest of the assemblage sat stone silent. Moments later, during the playing of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," the audience of more than 18,500 rose to its feet, row by row, holding tiny American flags that flapped in the light wind. The president joined them, appearing to choke back tears as he waved his flag to the music. Beside him, first lady Laura Bush clutched a tissue and dabbed her eyes.

"One death can leave sorrow that seems almost unbearable," the president said. "But to all of you who lost someone here, I want to say: You are not alone. The American people will never forget the cruelty that was done here and in New York, and in the sky over Pennsylvania."

Days after the start of airstrikes in Afghanistan, Bush's speech before the sea of service members doubled as an expression of U.S. military determination.

"I pledge to you that America will never relent on this war against terror," Bush said. "There will be times of swift, dramatic action. There will be times of steady, quiet progress. Over time, with patience and precision, the terrorists will be pursued. They will be isolated, surrounded, cornered, until there is no place to run, hide or rest."

And from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, a reminder of what is at stake: "Our first task ... is to remember the fallen as they were, living in freedom, blessed by it, proud of it, and willing, like so many others before them, and like so many today, to die for it."

For this military audience, those words had resonance. Rebecca Ramsey stood wiping away tears and thinking of her husband, who was deployed overseas last week with his Army regiment from Fort Hood, Texas.

"He was in Texas, so I couldn't kiss him goodbye," she said. "I had to stand there with a smile on my face and let him go. I'm so scared for him."

The ceremony drew a crowd of dignitaries, including former President Bill Clinton, and was the first time so many of the families of the Pentagon victims were brought together. One by one, grim-faced military escorts hoisted placards bearing an individual victim's name, often followed by more than a dozen teary-eyed relatives holding flowers, and each other.

It was a public occasion, but a day of private mourning, as those who knew the victims - and thousands who did not - walked past the names listed on large poster boards that said, "America's Heroes."

"I'm too afraid to look," said Neil Hershey, 40, a Pentagon sheet-metal worker who sat at the service hunched over his heavy work boots, his eyes on the ground. "I'm sure I'll know a dozen of them."

For some, it was their first return to the Pentagon since American Airlines flight 77 tore headlong into the southwest side of the military's headquarters, killing 64 on the plane and 125 on the ground.

"I just keep thinking about my mom - the past," said Connie Hale, 15, an Alexandria, Va., student who wore a picture of her mother on her T-shirt. Diane M. Hale-McKinzy, a 20-year civilian employee, was killed shortly after watching Connie round the corner to catch her school bus. "We prayed together that day before I went to school. We prayed together every day."

The event's planners tried to play down reminders of the events a month ago. The ceremonies took place well away from the charred gash left by the plane and the fire that followed. Though flights soared low over the Pentagon just an hour earlier - an eerie reminder of Sept. 11 - Reagan National Airport redirected takeoffs out of view during the ceremony.

But, for some, fear and loss are all too familiar. David Ruth, 54, and his older brother William served as Marines in Vietnam, one always worrying about the other. Both survived that war, but not the new one. William is dead. He worked for the Army Reserve and was in the Pentagon when the plane slammed into it.

"He didn't need a plane to crash there to be a hero," said his brother, who wore William's Marine Corps ring, which rescuers found in the rubble. "I know he gave his whole life to his country."

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.