By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 11, 2008 - On the seventh anniversary of the day a hijacked airliner slammed into the Pentagon, President Bush today dedicated a memorial near the crash site, calling it not only a place of remembrance, but also a reminder of the resilience of the American spirit. The attacks in New York and at the Pentagon and the thwarted hijacking of United Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania, are events that "changed our world forever," President Bush during his remarks at the dedication ceremony.
"The years that followed have seen justice delivered to evil men and battles fought in distant lands," the president said. "But each year on this day, our thoughts return to this place. Here we remember those who died, and here, on this solemn anniversary, we dedicate a memorial that will enshrine their memory for all time."
The president said the memorial will be a place of remembrance, and a place where those who lost family and friends can find solace. But it is more, he said.
"For all our citizens, this memorial will be a reminder of the resilience of the American spirit," Bush told the audience. "As we walk among the benches, we will remember there could have been many more lives lost."
The memorial also will remind Americans that "when buildings fell, heroes rose," Bush said. In the Pentagon, employees ran into smoke-filled corridors to guide co-workers to safety. In New York, firefighters and police rushed up the stairs of the World Trade Center as the towers neared collapse. "Passengers aboard Flight 93 charged the cockpit and laid down their lives to spare countless others," he said. "One of the worst days in America's history saw some of the bravest acts in America's history."
The events of Sept. 11 still sear Americans, said Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"Even for all the pain, it heals us to come back here and reflect on the suffering and the sacrifice of that day," he said.
American servicemembers serving around the world in harm's way remember that sacrifice, and are dedicated to the memory of the innocents who died in the attacks. They are resolved that it doesn't happen again, the chairman said.
"I see it in their eyes -- the eyes of every one of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who, at this very moment, stand watch anywhere, any time, ready to do their duty," Mullen said. "The enduring resolve to take the fight to our enemies – those who brought the fight here – burns strong within each and every one of our servicemen and women. It is that resolve that will always return us here to this spot -- this 'vision-place of souls.'"
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the memorial consecrates the Pentagon.
"With this memorial we pay our respects to 184 souls; to the many who were injured; and to the families who still grieve," the secretary said. "While no public display can make up for the injustice, or lessen the pain of these losses, the one that we dedicate today binds all of America to the dead and their survivors. Your suffering and your solace, so personal to you, become the nation's as well.
"From now on, the Pentagon is more than a symbol of government, more than the seat of military affairs," he continued. "It is also a place of remembrance."
The president also honored Americans who decided to defend the nation in a time of war.
"When our enemies attacked the Pentagon, they pierced the rings of this building, but they could not break the resolve of the United States armed forces," he said. "Since 9/11, our troops have taken the fight to the terrorists abroad, so we do not have to face them here at home. Thanks to the brave men and women and all those who work to keep us safe, there has not been another attack on our soil in 2,557 days."
Donald H. Rumsfeld, the defense secretary on the day of the attacks, also spoke at the dedication. The former secretary – who ran to the site of the attack and helped triage the victims – said Americans will not forget what the attack meant to the United States.
"In the sinister logic of its perpetrators and in the suffering of its victims, Sept. 11 was among the darkest days for Americans," he said. "But it was also a day when, it can be said, America rediscovered its special grace: the American people's capacity for courage, for goodwill and for sacrifice."
Rumsfeld said the dedication of the memorial was a day to "renew our vows to never forget how this long struggle began, and to never forget those who fell first."
Today's dedication is the culmination of an effort so Americans remember what happened when terrorists flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon Sept. 11, 2001, Jim Laychak, president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund, said.
Laychak lost his brother, David, aboard Flight 77. He helped to raise more than $15 million in private funds to make the memorial a reality.
"We want people to remember what happened here," he said in his remarks at the dedication ceremony. "We want people to remember our loved ones. We want people to remember the feeling that swept through our country after 9/11 – that feeling of taking care of all those who were in such pain."
As part of the dedication of the Pentagon Memorial, announcers read the names of all those killed aboard the flight and in the building. From Paul Ambrose to Yuguang Zheng, the names went on. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Defense Department civilians, passengers and crew, several sets of husbands and wives and a whole family: 184 innocent lives lost at 9:36 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001.
As the announcers read the names, pictures of those killed – smiling at the camera or in official military photos – put faces to names. A sailor rang a ship's bell after each name was read.
The memorial opens to the public today at 7 p.m. and will remain open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.