Within view of the Pentagon wall where terrorists crashed a hijacked plane two years ago, the top U.S. military official presided over a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. Several hundred family members attended the service to honor 184 victims of the Pentagon attack.
The ceremony was held at a small black granite monument in a grass clearing surrounded by trees and thousands of white, stone burial markers.
The remembrance began with a moment of silence, just minutes before the time of the 2001 Pentagon attack. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers marked what is being called Patriots Day. General Meyers called the Pentagon victims heroes, not because they gave their lives, but because they lived as free Americans.
"They will not be forgotten by their friends and families who love them, or the co-workers who respect them, or the nation that is so grateful for all they did," he said.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld followed, saying Patriots Day honors those who are buried in the hills of Arlington National Cemetery. "A patriot is one who loves his land, prizes its principles, and cherishes its creed. A patriot so reveres the ideals of his home country, that he is willing to lay down his life to ensure that those ideals endure," he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld also said that the nearby western wall of the Pentagon represents an arsenal of democracy, and the September 11th victims were part of that arsenal.
Secretary Rumsfeld defended U.S.-led military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, saying if the fight against terrorism is not fought there, then it will be fought here.
More than 400 family members attended the wreath laying ceremony. They were joined by 100 dignitaries. Tourists and local residents were also present.
Sixty-four of the 184 Pentagon and Flight 77 victims are buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Their funeral service at this site was held September 12, 2002