"Those who died are with us still," President says. "This anniversary allows us to renew our faith that even the darkest night gives way to a brighter dawn"...
President Obama on Tuesday morning marked the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks at the Pentagon Memorial, speaking during an emotional ceremony about Americans' resilience and hope. Accompanied by First Lady Michelle Obama, the President placed a wreath of white flowers on a stand above the stone engraved September 11, 2001 9:37 AM, the moment United Flight #77 slammed into the western side of the Pentagon. A large American flag, draping down from the roof, marked the point of impact. Taps was played for the 184 people killed inside the building and aboard the aircraft. (Above: Defense Sec. Leon Panetta, the President & Gen. Martin Dempsey)
Uniformed officers and the families of those who perished stood in silence with the President and Mrs. Obama. (Above: The President, Mrs. Obama and Sec. Panetta with the wreath)
“No matter how many years pass, no matter how many times we come together on this hallowed ground, know this--that you will never be alone,” President Obama told the relatives of the deceased. “Your loved ones will never be forgotten. They will endure in the hearts of our nation, because through their sacrifice, they helped us make the America we are today — an America that has emerged even stronger.”
Some in the crowd held pictures of loved ones, or wore buttons with their photos. Many held red roses, and wiped away tears. The national anthem was played as the mourners faced the flag at half mast. A prayer was offered to begin the commemoration, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke of the terrible day long ago, and the American response.
"No one attacks the United States of America," Panetta said. "In trying to attack our strengths, the terrorists unleashed our greatest strengths--the spirit and will to fight back."
Clad in a dark suit, the President said that he and Mrs. Obama are "humbled again" to share this day with members of the military and the families of those who died. He noted that the attacks have since inspired five million citizens "to wear the uniform."
"This anniversary allows us to renew our faith that even the darkest night gives way to a brighter dawn. Today, we can come here to the Pentagon, and touch these names and kneel beside a building where a single stone still bears the scars of that fire," the President said.
"We can visit the field of honor in Pennsylvania and remember the heroes who made it sacred. We can see water cascading into the footprints of the Twin Towers, and gaze up at a new tower rising above the New York skyline. And even though we may never be able to fully lift the burden carried by those left behind, we know that somewhere, a son is growing up with his father’s eyes, and a daughter has her mother’s laugh -- living reminders that those who died are with us still.
So as painful as this day is and always will be, it leaves us with a lesson that no single event can ever destroy who we are. No act of terrorism can ever change what we stand for. Instead, we recommit ourselves to the values that we believe in, holding firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.
That’s the commitment that we reaffirm today. And that’s why, when the history books are written, the true legacy of 9/11 will not be one of fear or hate or division. It will be a safer world; a stronger nation; and a people more united than ever before."
The military band played America the Beautiful as the roughly half-hour memorial event concluded. The President and Mrs. Obama walked into the crowd, shaking hands, and offering hugs.
*The transcript of the President's remarks at the Pentagon Memorial
A visit to Arlington National Cemetery...
Leaving the Pentagon at 10:50 AM, the President's motorcade made an unscheduled stop at Arlington National Cemetery. The President and Mrs. Obama visited the graves in Section 60, one of the sections where those killed in Afghanistan and Iraq rest.
They walked among the chalk-white markers, in the sun and shade, pausing at one of the first to place a challenge coin--a medallion bearing insignia passed out by commanders as motivation or to honor achievement--on the grave. The First Couple talked for several minutes over the grave, the marker larger than others, a collective memorial for victims of an Oct. 26, 2009 helicopter crash in Afghanistan.
The President's chief of staff, Jack Lew, and counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan watched from the distance as the First Couple walked the long line of markers, where the President bent over to place several more challenge coins at graves.
The President and Mrs. Obama began the day with a moment of silence at the White House, joined by hundreds of staff on the South Lawn at the time the first jet hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center eleven years ago. The First Couple bowed their heads as a bell tolled three times. Taps was played.
In the afternoon, the President will visit with Wounded Warriors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
*Top photo by Pete Souza/White House; second by Doug Mills/New York Times; third pool; fourth by Chuck Kennedy/White House