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Marking One Year With Music, Flags

Ceremonies around Arlington draw thousands to remember Sept. 11.

It was the afternoon of the anniversary, and Phillip Garris was waving his flag.

Garris, a Fredericksburg resident, had come to Arlington this Sept. 11, bringing with him a six-foot tall American flag. Throughout the day, he stood on the hill below the Navy Annex, holding the flag high.

The hill overlooks the eastern end of Columbia Pike, and is in view of the western edge of Arlington National Cemetery. It also faces the site of last year's terrorist attack, the side of the Pentagon that was hit by American Airlines Flight 77 last year, the site where 184 people died.

Last year, the hill was blanketed with memorials to the victims, tokens of remembrance from across the country. Last week, the hill was much more sparsely covered. But a row of crosses stood just off of the Pike, and some the ground was littered with a few dedications and letters to the victims of the attack.

Garris didn't know any of them. But he came to Arlington to wave the flag, he said, in support of the victims, their families, and because he knew that he could easily have been one of them.

"I'm a civilian. But my wife's a civil servant, just the sort of person who would've been in that building," he said. Down the hill, two men sang songs in Spanish, accompanied by a guitar, songs in which the word "peace" was prominent.

"I'm just here to show that we miss our people we lost here, the people we lost in New York and Pennsylvania," Garris said. "And to give a shout out to people in the military and law enforcement, who are trying to keep us safe. To make sure that it never happens again."

<b>GARRIS' FLAG</b> was not the only one in Arlington last Wednesday. Arlington's anniversary observances of the Sept. 11 attacks began in Rosslyn, where the county unfurled a 30-by-60-foot flag at 9:37 a.m., the moment the plane hit the Pentagon.

A year before, the weather had been calm on the day of the attacks. But this year, the wind blew fiercely, whipping that flag, and dozens of others hung from the roofs of local businesses.

As the flags flew in the gusty wind, Franciscan friars from a Delaware monastery stood in their brown robes, attendants to a 3,500-pound bronze Bell of Remembrance. After the flag ceremony, audience members from the crowd of 5,000 were invited to line up, to ring the bell 184 times, once in honor of each victim.

But the line to ring the bell grew and grew, and soon stretched beyond 184 people. Once the bell was rung 184 times, a moment of silence was observed, and then the line continued, ringing the bell not just in honor of the Pentagon victims, but in memory of last year's attacks.

<b>IN CRYSTAL CITY,</b> preparations for a visit from the governor were underway. Firefighters from Station 5 were some of the first on the scene at the Pentagon, scarcely a mile away.

Gov. Mark Warner (D) came to the station for lunch, to talk to 45 firefighters and paramedics from Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, Prince William and across Northern Virginia who had been at the Pentagon last year.

They came to meet Warner and former Lt. Gov. John Hager, who Warner appointed as a special assistant for Emergency Preparedness in the Commonwealth.

A year ago, Warner said, he had been out campaigning when he heard about the first attack in New York.

"I watched the plane hit the second tower," he said. "I called my family, then went to my campaign headquarters. As I passed by the Pentagon, I saw smoke billowing from the fire there."

But as vivid as those memories are, Warner said, "they pale in comparison with what you all saw."

He pledged his support for emergency preparedness funding at the state level, then called upon Alan Wallace, a firefighter from Ft. Myer, to talk to his fellow firefighters about the year past.

Wallace has worked in the area since 1993, after spending 12 years working as a firefighter at an Air Force base in Ohio. He was injured in the response to the Pentagon last year, and he did his best to remember the other firefighters who cared for him then.

"I thank those of you who worked with Mark Skipper and me, who were injured slightly that day," Wallace said. "Don't remember who it was exactly, but I'm honored to be here with you today. This is very special."

There were as many memories of Sept. 11 as there were firefighters in the room.

"We were working on the 11th. I was assigned to arrive there," said Derek Spector, a firefighter from Station 5 and a member of the Fire Department's Honor Guard. He came to the lunch after taking part in the ceremony in Rosslyn.

"This year's been pretty rough for some in the department, but that's what we're here for," Spector said. He wasn't on duty this Sept. 11, however. "I just came for the lunch," he said. Afterwards, "I'm going home and spending the rest of the day with my family."

<b>THAT NIGHT,</b> Warner said he had learned a lot by spending this Sept. 11 in Arlington.

"I spent all day in Arlington," he said. "It’s been a remarkable day."

He had gone from the Pentagon that morning, to Station 5, to Virginia Hospital Center-Arlington, to the concert next to the Iwo Jima Memorial, just in the shadow of the Netherlands Carillon.

"Sept. 11, 2002 — yes, it's been a day to remember," Warner told the audience of around 5,000 gathered for the concert. "But for me it's once again to say I'm incredibly blessed and proud to be an American."

Warner may have spent the day in memorial ceremonies. But for many, the concert was one of the few opportunities they had to commemorate Sept. 11, 2001.

"I went to Mass at 12:30," said Don West, an Arlington resident who works at the Department of Transportation. "But I had a regular day otherwise. I kept track of events on the TVs in the lobby, on the same monitors where I watched the planes hit."

But he knew the concert was planned for that evening, and didn't want to miss it. "I knew this was going on, and I worked a little late to take advantage of it," West said. "I bike home, and I'll ride home in the dark tonight, but that's OK."

Sharing a blanket nearby, Wendy Maiello, Kim Anderson, Brenda Latter and Michelle Dixon were eager for the concert to start. What did they do to mark Sept. 11? "We worked," Maiello said.

"Some people in my office took the day off," Latter said. "We're three blocks from the White House, and they were nervous. But I think it was the safest place to be."

But they had planned on coming to the concert, made especially attractive by the nearby Iwo Jima memorial, Anderson said. But it was also close to home, and to the Pentagon, and that made it "a coping thing," Maiello said. "It’s just part of the healing process."

<b>THE CONCERT BEGAN</b> with patriotic music. But the highlight was a recitation by Jon Spelman, an oral historian who combined the memories of many Arlingtonians into a single narrative of Sept. 11.

As he told the story, the crowd sat in silence, punctuated by musical interludes and planes from National Airport flying overhead.

Spelman interviewed Arlington firefighters and police, rescue and construction workers at the Pentagon. But he also incorporated the memories of other Arlingtonians, less involved in responding to Sept. 11, who were still marked by that day a year before.

"I teach a class on the seventh floor of a building on Columbia Pike," one man told Spelman, "with floor to ceiling windows." A little after 9:30, I had my back to the windows when I heard a tremendous whoosh. I turned around a saw a plane go by the windows."

Another man had been walking away from the Pentagon, on the grassy medians between Route 110, South Joyce Street and I-395, when the plane came in. He fell to the ground, he said, or might have lost his head to the jet engines.

"I watched the showers of concrete falling and falling," still another said. "They glitter in the blue light… like sugar."

The concert, and Spelman's recitation, were a mix of solemn memorial and festival. Families played on the grass, and children cried, but occasionally the crowd of thousands would fall into near silence.

"That's the way the event should be commemorated," said Kassimir Kashinov, 20, a Bulgarian college student on an exchange program in the US. "I really feel that the spirit is alive."