Thousands pay tribute at Pentagon

Bush's address focuses on threats to America and the war on terrorism

Enemies `will be stopped'

2001 9/11 2002

One Year

September 12, 2002|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - At the precise spot where an airliner slammed into the Pentagon a year ago, President Bush and military leaders led a ceremony of remembrance yesterday that was equal parts patriotic rally, somber memorial service and renewed call to arms against terrorism.

As commander in chief at the military's nerve center, the president spoke of loss of life and of heroism but devoted much of his address to the terrorist threat to America and the battles yet to come.

"The terrorists chose this target hoping to demoralize our country; they failed," said Bush, sparking a ripple of applause. "Within minutes, brave men and women were rescuing their comrades. Within hours in this building, the planning began for a military response. Within weeks, commands went forth from this place that would clear terrorist camps and liberate a nation."

But much remains to be done, he 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."

The president spoke to thousands who were gathered in front of a red, white and blue stage and in bleachers topped by rows of American flags snapping in the brisk wind. The ceremony took place next to the rebuilt section of the Pentagon, pristine limestone that a year ago was a flaming black gash.

There were long rows of survivors, some still recovering from wounds, and mothers, fathers, husbands, wives and children of the 184 people who died in the Pentagon or on the plane.

Uniformed police officers and firefighters who responded that morning were in the stands, along with the construction workers who speedily finished the repair job. Some had tiny American flags tucked in their hard hats. And there was a knot of American Airlines flight attendants and pilots, colleagues of the crew of Flight 77.

Amid martial tunes from the U.S. Army Band and military soloists who belted out "God Bless America" and other patriotic songs, chaplains rose to speak of evil and heroism and God's blessings.

"We meet on a battlefield," said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, striking a chord similar to the president's.

"The road ahead is long," he said. "But while we have not yet achieved victory, we know, in one important sense, that the terrorists who attacked us have already been defeated. ... The terrorists wanted Sept. 11 to be a day when innocents died. Instead it was a day when heroes were born."

As Rumsfeld and Bush stepped to the side of the stage for the Pledge of Allegiance, a huge American flag was unfurled from the Pentagon roof.

The stiff wind immediately whipped and twisted it, curling it back onto the roof. Several workers tried desperately to unfurl it once more, but they eventually abandoned the effort.

Among those in the audience was Abraham Scott of Springfield, Va. On that day a year ago, he received a call from his 46-year-old wife at the Pentagon, where she worked as an Army administrator. She told him about the terrorist attacks in New York, then said, "I've got to go. I'll call you later," remembered Scott, a retired Army major. His wife, who also left behind two daughters, is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Standing alone as other surviving relatives looked for their seats, Scott wore a photo of his wife on his gray suit. His eyes misted over.

"It's sad," he said, looking away. "Even though it's sad, I'll get together one more time with the other family members, my first time since last year."

Joyce LaRoche traveled from Rochester, N.Y., for the ceremony. Her daughter, Deborah Ramsaur, was an administrative assistant to Army Lt. Gen. Timothy Maude, the highest-ranking military officer to die in the Pentagon attack.

LaRoche could hardly speak of her daughter without breaking down.

"It's hard for me to think she passed away here," she said.

Ramsaur's husband and their two children, a 7-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son, did not attend the ceremony.

The Pentagon grounds were adorned with bouquets of flowers, pictures and makeshift memorials. On the sloping lawn below the Navy Annex, which adjoins the Pentagon, a white bedsheet was painted like an American flag with the words "We'll Never Forget the Innocents and our Heroes."

Nearby were floral arrangements and flags, as well as a clutch of roses and a photo of Barbara K. Olson, a prominent Washington lawyer who died when the jetliner crashed into the Pentagon. Her husband, U.S. Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson, was ushered to the front row for the Pentagon ceremony yesterday.

Standing near the display were two men, one holding aloft a large American flag on a pole, the other with his hand over his heart. Both faced the Pentagon, a quarter mile down the hill.

"I just couldn't go to work today," explained Phillip Garris, 42, of Fredericksburg, Va., who installs office furniture. He bought the flag at Wal-Mart and the pole at Home Depot yesterday morning. "Just to stand here and say thanks. And that we're Americans, and we miss them," he said.

Raymond Dixon, a 24-year-old Army specialist who works at a Pentagon health clinic, drove past and noticed Garris. He stopped and offered to help hold the flag.

From their perch, they could hear some of Bush's speech and the songs.

The ceremony was over, but Garris planned to remain, holding his flag and gazing toward the Pentagon, "probably until the sun goes down."

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