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, he noted that, “There has not been another attack on our soil in 2,557 days” and said he hoped that 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,” he told the audience, estimated at 15,000 people, that included many family members and friends of those who died at the Pentagon that day. “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 City, where 2,751 people were killed when American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 slammed into the World Trade Center towers, causing the buildings to collapse, presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama walked with Mayor Michael 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 paused, bowing their heads in silence. They also greeted a group of survivors, first responders and family members of the people who died.
In honor of the anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil, both campaigns suspended television advertising for the day. The two men appeared Thursday night at Columbia University at a forum on national service.
In a statement posted on his campaign Web site, Obama recalled that on that tragic 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,” he 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 U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who helped people flee 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 the passengers on 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,” he 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.”