By Gary SheftickNovember 26, 2008
President George W. Bush dedicated the Pentagon Memorial Sept. 11, saying the nation will never forget the sacrifice and heroism there following the terrorist attack seven years ago.
"Pentagon employees ran into smoke-filled rooms to guide their friends to safety," Bush said.
"One of the worst days in America's history saw some of the bravest acts in America's history."
Following his speech, servicemembers pulled blue coverings off the 184 engraved benches in the memorial-one dedicated to each person who died when terrorists crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the building. Children chanted from J.W. Alvey elementary school, as the Singing Sergeants of the Air Force joined the U.S. Army Chorus and the Naval Academy Chorus in singing tributes.
Earlier in the morning, two servicemembers read the 184 names of those who perished over the public address system as a photo of each casualty was flashed on a large screen. After each name, a bell tolled.
Doris Brunelle said it was like a knife piercing her heart when she saw the photo of her brother, retired Master Sgt. Max Beilke. He worked for the Army Personnel Command and was attending a meeting in the Pentagon with the day's senior-ranking casualty, Lt. Gen. Timothy J. Maude, deputy chief of staff for Personnel, when the plane hit just a few feet from their conference room.
Beilke had been credited as being the last American combat Soldier to leave Vietnam in 1973 and his sister Doris said she hoped today's ceremony reminded everyone that "freedom is not free." She said the memorial-with narrow pools of water under each rising slab with engraved names-was a "fitting tribute" to her brother and all who gave their lives.
"Today we are dedicating a profoundly moving memorial," said Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon R. England in the first remarks following the Prelude Concert. He said the Pentagon Memorial will in time attract millions, inspire all who visit it to reflect, adding that he hoped it would help many find "inner peace."
Following "Taps," a bagpipe player pumped "Amazing Grace" as he walked through the new memorial-past the bench dedicated to 3-year-old Dana Falkenberg who was on the airliner, and on the other side, past the one for 71-year-old John D. Yamnicky. the oldest one who lost his life that day.
The memorial reflects "an undying commitment to honor and remember those who died," said Maj. Gen. Douglas C. Carver, chief of Army chaplains, as he gave the invocation. He said the "unbroken spirit and resolve of the American people" promise to "raise up beauty out of ashes" and give all hope.
James J. Laychak, chairman of the board for the Pentagon Memorial Fund, said he would like people to remember the feeling of unity and cooperation that "swept through the country" following Sept. 11, 2001. He lost his brother, David W. Laychak, in the Pentagon that day, but said "today is a day to celebrate life."
Laychak worked for five years to raise the funds to build the Pentagon Memorial and he thanked all who donated. He said the memorial was designed to be a "place of solace, peace and healing." He said when he sees the reflecting sunshine climb up the monuments, he feels hope, and would like all visitors to feel that sense of hope.
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the memorial will be "an eternal reminder" of the valor of the men and women "who saw flame and smoke and stepped forward" to help. He said a symbol of American strength-the Pentagon-was scarred that day, a day he called "one of the darkest" in American history. But, he said, through the darkness, "America rediscovered its special grace," a tremendous capacity for goodwill and sacrifice.
"The events of 9/11 still burn, still singe our memories," said Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen. Despite that, he said it is still a "healing" experience to return to the site and remember. He described the memorial as a "vision spot."
"We claim this hallowed ground for peace and healing," said Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates.
His predecessor, Rumsfeld, had said the Pentagon became a battlefield the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Gates added, however, that the site now was not one that depicted the ruins of battle, but instead one that reflected the "fortifications of memory, love and resolve."