Nation Marks Fifth Anniversary of 9/11 Attacks

By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 11, 2006 5:52 PM

The nation today marked the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, memorializing the nearly 3,000 people who died that day in solemn remembrances that included the ritual reading of victims' names at the sites of the attacks, public tributes to lost loved ones and private tears and grieving among those they left behind.

President Bush, who today visited the three sites hit in those terror attacks, will address the nation in a televised speech at 9 p.m. from the Oval Office that salutes the victims and the rescue workers and renews Bush's determination to destroy terrorist threats.

"The war is not over -- and it will not be over until either we or the extremists emerge victorious," the president will say, according to excerpts of the speech released by the White House. "If we do not defeat these enemies now, we will leave our children to face a Middle East overrun by terrorist states and radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons."

Bush will also again stress his belief that democratic reform in the Middle East is a strong weapon in the battle with terrorists.

"By standing with democratic leaders and reformers, by giving voice to the hopes of decent men and women, we are offering a path away from radicalism. And we are enlisting the most powerful force for peace and moderation in the Middle East: The desire of millions to be free," the White House text said.

At the scene of the destroyed World Trade Center in New York, a 16-acre site that has come to be called Ground Zero, a crowd this morning observed four moments of silence coinciding with the exact times two hijacked planes struck the north and south towers and the times the two towers subsequently collapsed in massive clouds of dust and debris.

Relatives of those who died read their names aloud and added brief personal eulogies as solemn music played. It took more than three hours to go through the list of 2,749 people who were in the trade center, on board the two hijacked airliners and among the firefighters, police and other rescue personnel who rushed to the scene only to perish when the skyscrapers came crashing down.

Other ceremonies and commemorations were held across the United States, notably at the Pentagon, which was hit by another hijacked plane, and in a field near Shanksville, Pa., where the fourth commandeered jetliner went down when passengers revolted.

At CIA headquarters in Northern Virginia, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the agency's director, told employees that the Sept. 11 attacks triggered "our greatest recruiting drive ever," rallying the nation much as Pearl Harbor did for an earlier generation.

"In five years, more than 5,000 terrorists have been captured or killed," Hayden said in highlighting the CIA's "central role" in responding to the attacks. "Al-Qaeda's core operational leadership has been decimated, and their successors are in hiding or on the run." He did not mention Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri, the top al-Qaeda leaders who remain at large nearly five years after their host government in Afghanistan, the radical Islamic Taliban movement, was driven by power by U.S.-backed Afghan forces.

"Working closely with our colleagues throughout the U.S. government and our foreign liaison partners, we have broken cells of al-Qaeda operatives, associates and sympathizers around the world," Hayden said. "Although the enemy, intelligent and resilient, has managed to launch attacks in Europe, Asia and Africa, many potential catastrophes have been averted."

Hayden added, "Five years into this campaign, we cannot say when victory will come. But we now know the enemy and understand his methods with far greater depth and precision."

In his statement, the Air Force general paid tribute to four CIA officers "who fell while serving in Afghanistan" and to seven Defense Intelligence Agency colleagues who died in the attack on the Pentagon.

"Five years have come, and five years have gone, and still we stand together as one," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at the Ground Zero ceremony. "We come back to this place to remember the heartbreaking anniversary -- and each person who died here -- those known and unknown to us, whose absence is always with us."

Former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who led the city's response to the catastrophe, said at the scene, "We've come back to remember the valor of those we've lost, those who innocently went to work that day and the brave souls who went in after them."

In Washington, Vice President Cheney escorted former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher to a ceremony on the White House lawn this morning. The 80-year-old Thatcher joined current and former Cabinet members and White House staffers in bowing their heads to mark the moment the first plane struck. A bugler then played taps as a flag, flying at half-staff above the White House, fluttered in the breeze on an overcast day.

Among those attending the New York City commemoration were victims' family members, some of them holding framed photos of their loved ones or wearing pins bearing their pictures. New York police bagpipers played as people deposited flowers and mementos at the site. Family members hugged each other and wept as the names of the victims were read.

At the same time on New York's Lower East Side, Bush stood with firefighters and police officers outside a firehouse called Fort Pitt and observed moments of silence in front of a door salvaged from a fire truck that was destroyed at the World Trade Center.

Bush, joined by first lady Laura Bush, laid wreaths at the Ground Zero Sunday and at the site of the crash near Shanksville today. After the ceremony at the Pennsylvania field, Bush made the rounds of assembled family members, shaking hands, chatting, signing autographs and offering an occasional hug to those who lost relatives there.

From Shanksville, he flew back to Washington and laid a wreath this afternoon at the place on the Pentagon's southwestern side where a hijacked airliner struck five years ago. The damaged portion of the huge structure has since been rebuilt, but a blackened piece of limestone remains as a reminder of the attack.

As in Pennsylvania, Bush greeted family members of the victims and others in attendance after the wreath-laying, hugging women and posing with children as a military band played "Amazing Grace" and other songs. Among those present were Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, his arm in a sling from recent shoulder surgery, and members of Congress.

In an interview broadcast today on NBC's "Today" show, Bush said of Sept. 11, "My thinking about the world was changed dramatically on that day. I realized that my most important responsibility and that of all of us in government is to protect the people."

Bush added, "I realized that we were in involved in an ideological struggle akin to the Cold War. And every day in the Oval Office, with the exception of Sunday, when I'm in town, I get briefed on this -- you know, what the enemy is trying to do to us. And it's a sobering thought."

As a result of beefed-up security practices at home and the pursuit of the al-Qaeda terrorist network abroad, Bush asserted, "We are safer . . . but we're not yet safe. One way for your viewers to understand this is that the enemy has to be right once; we have to be right 100 percent of the time to protect us against people who are willing to kill in a variety of ways."

Over the long term, Bush said, "We have got to defeat an ideology of hate with an ideology of hope. And that's why I've called it an ideological struggle."

At the Pentagon this morning, Cheney, attending a ceremony with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, hailed the war on terrorism launched by the Bush administration in response to the attacks. "In the conduct of this war, the world has seen the best that is in our country," Cheney said. "We have shown that Americans are a resolute people, clear in our purposes, steady in difficult tasks. We have answered violence with patient justice."

Cheney added, "This struggle is fierce, and it will be lengthy. But it is not endless. Our cause is right, our will is strong; this great nation will prevail."

As the vice president concluded his remarks, a large flag was unfurled from the top of the Pentagon, recalling the show of patriotism that accompanied the rescue effort at the damaged building five years ago.

The attacks on that clear September morning killed 2,973 people -- not including the 19 al-Qaeda hijackers who commandeered four commercial airliners and turned them into weapons of mass death. In a suicide mission that had been planned for more than two years, they used small knives, box cutters and cans of Mace or pepper spray to take control of the cockpits.

The first plane, American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston's Logan Airport to Los Angeles, slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York at 8:46 a.m. It carried 76 passengers, nine crew members, five hijackers and 10,000 gallons of jet fuel.

The second plane, United Airlines Flight 175, also bound for Los Angeles from Logan, hit the trade center's South Tower at 9:03 a.m.

As massive fires raged in the twin towers, where as many as 50,000 people were employed, hundreds of victims were incinerated or succumbed to the billowing smoke. Others, unable to escape, leaped to their deaths from floors above the blaze, or were crushed when both towers subsequently collapsed.

In subsequent recovery efforts, the bodies of only 291 of the World Trade Center victims were found intact. Remains from more than half the others were eventually identified, but no identifiable trace has been found of about 1,150 of the victims, forcing many families to bury caskets filled with mementos rather than human bodies.

While Americans were absorbing the reality that the nation was under terrorist attack on Sept. 11, a third airliner, American Airlines Flight 77 from Washington's Dulles International Airport to Los Angeles, slammed into the Pentagon at more than 500 mph at 9:37 a.m. Among the victims were 125 people in the Pentagon and 59 passengers and crew aboard the plane.

But the fourth hijacked plane -- carrying 40 passengers and crew, plus four attackers --never reached the hijackers' intended destination, believed to be the U.S. Capitol. Instead, United Airlines Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco crashed into a field near Shanksville at 10:03 a.m. after passengers learned of the other suicide attacks that morning and fought the hijackers in a desperate effort to take control of the plane. The resulting crash gave the United States what Bush has called its first victory in the war on terrorism.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company