By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 11, 2008 - As the bands played and the flags waved at the Pentagon here this morning, an airplane flew by. As names were read and prayers were said, an airplane flew by. As leaders spoke and children squirmed, an airplane flew by.
And as more than a dozen airplanes flew by, one-by-one, to land at Reagan National Airport nearby, a nation remembered the morning when one did not simply pass by. Instead, at the hands of terrorists, the commercial jetliner slammed its body into the walls of the nation's symbol of military might killing 59 people on board and 125 in the Pentagon.
At the Pentagon 9/11 memorial dedication this morning, more than 16,000 people gathered to remember that morning and the friends and family members they lost. They came in uniforms and business suits, t-shirts and jeans, sun dresses and flip-flops.
The havoc wreaked at 9:37 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, by American Airlines flight 77, was not discriminatory. Old died beside young, servicemembers beside civilians and men beside women. The ceremony today marked the culmination of more than two years of building and five years of fundraising toward one goal for those behind its inception.
"We want people to remember," said James J. Laychak, the president and chairman of the Pentagon Memorial Fund. Laychak's brother, David, was killed at the Pentagon.
Each of the memorial fund's board members lost family in the attacks.
Laychak said that the memorial was a call to remember not only the attacks, and the people who died, but also the swell of patriotism that swept the country in the following months.
But, it seemed, that the memorial evoked memories as individual their perspectives.
All of those speaking at the ceremony today offered up what they would remember, and what America should not forget.
The president said it simply.
"Here we remember those who died," Bush said. "Parents will come here to remember children ... husbands and wives will come here to remember spouses ... people from across our nation will come here to remember friends and loved ones."
Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who was the top official in the Pentagon at the time, said he will not forget how the huge building shook.
He will not forget the colleagues and friends who were killed.
And he called on America to never forget "those who fell first" in the war on terror.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the memorial binds those who died and those who survived with the rest of America.
In fact, the world will never view the Pentagon the same, he said. It is now more than a symbol of military power.
"It will also be a place of remembrance," he said.
And for those who will not smell the smoke, or feel the heat, or know the horror, Gates promised one truth.
"The truth that survives the ashes, is this -- the 184 are not forgotten," Gates said.
And the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen called the memorial a "vision place of souls."
He said the vision of that day leads our troops into battle now.
"We will never forget, for the vision has passed into the souls of our servicemen and women. I see it in their eyes ..." Mullen said.
"It is that resolve that will never allow us to forget what happened here," Mullen said.
Former Army Sgt. Jeff Layne said he will always remember carrying a huge, heavy American flag up a ladder to the roof of the Pentagon. It was Sept. 12 and the symbol of Layne along with about dozen first responders unfurling the flag down the side of the building was soon a worldwide symbol of U.S. resilience.
"I don't think any of us understood the significance of that moment," Layne said. "It was later that we realized, Wow, we were part of history."
Layne joined most of the original crew back on top of the Pentagon again today for the ceremony, and again unfurled the flag.
Even though Layne has left the military, he won't forget that day, he said.
"I think America as a society ... they forget too quickly of the sacrifices that the men and women in uniform make," Layne said. "We should never forget. Never forget."
Mario Ornedo, whose brother Ruben was on the airplane, said he already knows some young children who do not remember the attacks.
"There's some younger children who are starting to forget. Parents are not telling them about it. They don't want to discuss it," Ornedo said. "With this memorial, hopefully, when they bring their children, they will remember what really happened here."
On the back corner of Marcellia Potler's shoulder is a tattooed reminder of the day her father died. An inked outline of the Pentagon surrounds the date 9-11-01, and is topped with the name of her father, retired Col. Ronald F. Golinski.
Seven of his children were there to remember him.
Potler sat on the bench and put her feet in the pool of water beneath.
"That's typical of me. I thought of him when I sat there, just talking to him in my head," Potler said.
Because her father's remains were never recovered, Potler said she feels closure at the memorial. She knows he is there, Potler said.
In seeing his picture, in hearing his name, she remembers her father here, Potler said.
Steve Cochran wanted to remember his notes today. A bagpiper of nearly three decades, he walked through the memorial during the ceremony playing "Amazing Graze."
Yesterday, during practice, he made it only halfway through, Cochran said. He "bobbled the tune" because it was overwhelming," he said.
Today, as he was waiting to start, the playing of "Taps" got to him. He fought to keep his emotions under control, Cochran said.
"I was out there all by myself and it was like 'I'm not by myself," Cochran said of his walk through the benches.
Cochran could not hold back his tears.
"This probably one of the most moving events I've worked," Cochran said.
A retired reserve Coast Guard command master chief petty officer and a retired full-time firefighter, Cochran said simply that the memorial serves as a reminder that "freedom is not free."
"It's expensive," Cochran said. "We need to keep that in mind, and if we ever forget that we are vulnerable ... and that there are those out there who want to hit us, then all you need to do is look over there to that field and then you'll understand why people work in this building."