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A nation bows its head in silence

THE NATION

Bush dedicates a memorial at the Pentagon, and McCain and Obama visit ground zero together.

September 12, 2008|Cynthia Dizikes and Johanna Neuman | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — The nearly 3,000 people who died when hijackers commandeered four passenger jets on Sept. 11, 2001, were remembered Thursday as President Bush dedicated the first national memorial to the victims and the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates came together in a moment of silence.

In a ceremony at the Pentagon, where 184 people were killed, Bush recalled how the "doomed airliner plunged from the sky, split the rock and steel of this building and changed our world forever."

His voice cracking, Bush noted that "there has not been another attack on our soil in 2,557 days," and said he hoped future generations of Americans with "no living memory" of the attacks would conclude that "we did not tire, we did not falter and we did not fail."

"A memorial can never replace what those of you mourning a loved one lost," Bush told the audience, estimated at 15,000, which included many family members and friends of those who died at the Pentagon.

"We pray that you will find some comfort amid the peace of these grounds. We pray that you will find strength in knowing that our nation will always grieve for you."

In New York, where 2,751 people were killed when American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 slammed into the World Trade Center towers, presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama walked with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and McCain's wife, Cindy, to a temporary memorial site.

They laid roses at a reflecting pool at the base of ground zero and bowed their heads in silence. They also greeted a group of survivors, emergency workers and family members of those who died.

In honor of the seventh anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil, both campaigns suspended television advertising for the day. The two candidates appeared Thursday night at Columbia University at a forum on national service.

In a statement posted on his campaign website, Obama recalled that on the fateful day, "Americans across our great country came together to stand with the families of the victims, to donate blood, to give to charity, and to say a prayer for our country. Let us renew that spirit of service and that sense of common purpose."

Before traveling to New York, McCain spoke at a remembrance ceremony at a field near Shanksville, Pa. -- the spot where United Airlines Flight 93, with 40 passengers and crew aboard, crashed after what investigators have concluded was an uprising against the four hijackers.

In his remarks, the Arizona senator noted that the plane's intended target was believed to be the U.S. Capitol.

"Hundreds, if not thousands, of people would have been at work in that building when that fateful moment occurred, and been destroyed along with a beautiful symbol of our freedom," McCain said. "They and, very possibly, I owe our lives to the passengers who summoned the courage and love necessary to deny our depraved and hateful enemies their terrible triumph."

At the Pentagon ceremony, former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who helped people escape the building after the crash, fought off tears as he talked about how "a great building became a battlefield."

He mourned the Pentagon employees who "one morning kissed their loved ones goodbye, went off to work and never came home" and those aboard American Airlines Flight 77, which had left Washington Dulles International Airport barely an hour before the crash, "who in the last moments made phone calls to loved ones and prayed to the Almighty before their journey ended not far from where it began."

"It was here that their fates were truly merged forever," Rumsfeld said. "They fell side by side as Americans. And make no mistake, it was because they were Americans that they were killed here in this place."

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, praising Rumsfeld for his "valor" in the Pentagon that day, said "from this time forward, the Pentagon will be more than a symbol of government" or military power but a remembrance of "the moment that came and went and changed us forever."

Family members and friends of those who died at the Pentagon took solace in the ceremony and in each other's company.

"I just couldn't come back here right after it happened," said Pam Thornton, whose son died at the Pentagon. "Now being here around everybody else who has had people they love die makes it easier."

Doris Brunelle, who lost her brother, said she hoped that the memorial reminded others of the sacrifice people made on that day.

"Freedom is not free," she said. "We should thank God when we wake up in the morning that we are still free and alive."

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cynthia.dizikes@latimes.com

johanna.neuman@latimes.com

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