“We claim this hallowed ground for peace and for healing. We claim it in affirmation of our strongest belief as a people: that every life is precious.”
- Robert S. Gates, Sept 11, 2008
An unbelievable and memorable day – and those words hardly do justice. I was there for the re-dedication ceremony of the rebuilt section on 11 Sep 2002. Then new stone, steel and glass formed the rebuilt ediface, but the wounds still ran deep only a year later. Today, here we were, seven years later to complete the circle for absent family, friends – shipmates. The long walk down the hill in the cool, pre-dawn darkness offered ample time to reflect and recall a similar walk seven years ago but under different circumstances. Instead of the sullen glow of a burning building reflected from a leaden sky and illuminated in spots by the efforts of the rescue and recovery teams, this morning it is in shades of blue and white with a flag above the point where the plane struck…
Already, at 6AM the crowd has gathered to pass through security checkpoints – one of those necessary, but ironic post 9/11 requirements. It is a quiet crowd that moves with purpose to the bleachers and seats. Old friends and acquaintances that haven’t been seen in almost seven years strike up brief renewals – a common theme is the wear of time, for though “only” seven years have passed, many look like they’ve aged decades, the side-effect of events seven years prior. We would note (and not be the only one) later when the President spoke, he to has seemed to age significantly beyond our collective memories of seven and six years ago.
In South Parking, normally packed to the gills with the cars, trucks and motorcycles of those who work in the building, now there stands 2998 flags – a “field of healing” as it were. One flag for each person who fell that day in New York, Arlington and Shanksvile.
The grey dawn shows flashes of red and gold, but these are quickly damped by the low, broken layer – fortunately there appears to be no hint of rain but it adds a pall of gloom. The breeze is from the east and while not quite chilling it lends itself to an occasional shiver. Or is it the foreshadow of the coming ceremony?
The ceremony begins with a prelude concert – all of which is wonderful, but the part that reached out and strummed the strings of your heart had to be the chorus of elementary students, the J. W. Alvey Elementary School Singing Sunrays. At once in their shining faces you catch a glimpse of what is great about this country and the hope of its future.
As if egged on by their singing, the sun began to break through the overcast and before we knew it, we were fast upon the first moment of silence – at 0840, when the first tower was struck. Following a wreath laying the roll call of the 184 who were lost here was read. Now, this was a first as it hadn’t been done at the re-dedication ceremony in 2002. Now, gazing across the crowd, past the media and the podium, we cast our eyes on the memorial, the benches draped in dark blue awaiting their dedication and uncovering later. For now, alone and unguarded, the cloth is brushed by the occasional breeze, which plucks at the fabric as names are read and pictures flashed back in the amphitheater. Taps is played by a lone bugler posted on the roof, above the unfurled flag. We well remember watching that flag being unfurled the first time, those few years ago, and the statement of defiance and strength in the face of evil it personified. Today it is no less so though the smoke and rubble is long gone. And then the bagpipes struck up Amazing Grace…
Soon, too soon, it is time for another moment of silence – this time for our site. And following, the hauntingly beautiful offering by Kitty Donohoe, ‘There Are No Words’ written the afternoon of Sept 11, 2001:
There Are No Words
there are no words there is no song
is there a balm that can heal these wounds that will last a lifetime long
and when the stars have burned to dust
hand in hand we still will stand because we must
in one single hour in one single day
we were changed forever something taken away
and there is no fire that can melt this heavy stone
that can bring back the voices and the spirits of our own
all the brothers, sisters and lovers all the friends that are gone
all the chairs that will be empty in the lives that will go on
can we ever forgive though we never will forget
can we believe in the milk of human goodness yet
we were forged in freedom we were born in liberty
we came here to stop the twisted arrows cast by tyranny
and we won’t bow down we are strong of heart
we are a chain together that won’t be pulled apart
And now we are fast upon the the portion of the service where the memorial is dedicated:
Former SECDEF Rumsfeld:
Here beneath these sloping fields of Arlington National Cemetery, fields that hold our nation’s fallen, this building stands as a silent monument to the resolve of a free people. And so too this memorial in its shadow will stand not only as a symbol of a nation’s grief, but as an eternal reminder of men and women of valor who saw flame and smoke, stepped forward to save and protect the lives of their fellow Americans on September 11th.
Let it also remind each of us of those who have volunteered to serve in our nation’s armed forces before and every day since. Our nation’s military has stood strong in this new age of peril, determined that what happened here seven years ago must not happen again.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ADM Mullen:
“Even for all the pain, it heals us to come back here and reflect on the suffering and the sacrifice of that day,” 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 – “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.’”
We know what took place, yet it is not easy to really grasp it – the moment that came, and went, and changed us forever. Succeeding generations will be further yet from that reality, making this commemoration, on the very flight path of American Airlines Flight 77, all the more important.
In light and in shadow – in granite, steel, and limestone – this memorial tells the story to future generations. They won’t directly feel the heat, smell the smoke, or know the horror of that day. But they will know, as the inscription says, that “We claim this ground.”
We claim this hallowed ground for peace and for healing. We claim it in affirmation of our strongest belief as a people: that every life is precious.
A poet said: “Not a truth is destroyed nor buried so deep among the ashes but it will be raked up at last.” The truth that survives the ashes, is this: the 184 are not forgotten. The others who died in New York and Pennsylvania are not forgotten. And we as a nation will not bow to those who so cruelly took them from us.
These are not the ruins of the attackers, they are the fortifications of memory, of love, and of resolve.
For all our citizens, this memorial will be a reminder of the resilience of the American spirit. As we walk among the benches, we will remember there could have been many more lives lost. On a day when buildings fell, heroes rose: Pentagon employees ran into smoke-filled corridors to guide their friends to safety. Firefighters 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. One of the worst days in America’s history saw some of the bravest acts in Americans’ history. We’ll always honor the heroes of 9/11. And here at this hallowed place, we pledge that we will never forget their sacrifice.
For future generations, this memorial will be a place of learning. The day will come when most Americans have no living memory of the events of September the 11th. When they visit this memorial, they will learn that the 21st century began with a great struggle between the forces of freedom and the forces of terror. They will learn that this generation of Americans met its duty — we did not tire, we did not falter, and we did not fail. They will learn that freedom prevailed because the desire for liberty lives in the heart of every man, woman, and child on Earth.
And finally, there was the dedication of the Memorial itself:
8 comments to “We Claim This Sacred Ground…” Sept 11, 2008
Given the circumstances of your association with the events 7 years ago, I would not have expected such a lengthy post, yet here it is: Informative, reflective, and of an appropriate tone.
Thank you for taking the time to share, once morem, this part of your journey through all of this.
SJS, you stopped by my site once and commented on my 2996 memorial post. That meant a lot to me.
Thank you for this post, and sharing the photos.
When you said earlier this week that you were going to be attending the dedication and putting up a post about it, I was definitely looking forward to your writing. You didn’t disappoint.
Unashamedly – not a dry eye in the area…
Nor at home in C-SPAN’s viewing audience, either. I thought of you.. often… as the cameras scanned the audience during the ceremony, SJS. I may have even seen you, but God only knows, not I.
Thanks for the wonderful write-up on the occasion. There’s nothing like a first-person perspective. I’m glad you were there, and in a very small way, you’ve made feel a part of the commemoration, as well.
Thank you for this, SJS. It’s very appreciated.
Excellent work SJS. I know it wasn’t easy but thanks for sharing.
[...] lost friends and shipmates, of courage, honor and commitment applied in real time, of duty to and honor for the fallen and their families. And of another time that gave rise to another cry — ‘Never [...]