On the fourth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Arlington residents, lawmakers and emergency response officials solemnly commemorated those who perished at the Pentagon and vowed to never forget one of the most tragic days in our nation's history.
More than 100 people attended a brief and somber ceremony at Courthouse Plaza, under a cloudless, azure sky that reminded many of that fateful day four years prior. At 9:37 in the morning, the exact time American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon, Arlington officials and emergency personnel tolled a bell 184 times to pay tribute to each person killed in the county.
“Let us look back to honor and respect those lives lost during this attack on Arlington's soil,” County Board Chairman Jay Fisette told the audience. Fisette praised the efforts of Arlington’s police officers, fire fighters and emergency workers, who “did their jobs and did them so well.”
A full honor guard paraded by the emotional crowd which contained more than two dozen fire fighters and police officers, and afterwards Fisette led a moment of silence.
Arlington County Manager Ron Carlee said the county government preferred a short and dignified ceremony that allowed attendees time for personal reflection.
Arlington officials also encouraged residents to display American flags at their homes and businesses as part of “Flags Across Arlington.”
While people across the country were deeply impacted by the events of Sept. 11, no community, outside lower Manhattan, has suffered such a lasting impact as Arlington.
“The entire community responded and not just the county government,” said Arlington Police Chief Doug Scott. “There’s not a person in this community who wasn't affected. Everyone had a connection to someone who lost their life.”
The attack was a major reason why Scott, who was working at the Department of the Interior at the time after 25 years as a Fairfax County police officer, returned to local law enforcement.
“Watching these guys respond and help convinced me that I wanted to be back in police work,” he said.
Before the speech Vander Lakett, a technical director for the Rosslyn Business Improvement District, recalled how the alarm in his house went off when the plane slammed into the Pentagon. The intermittent years have not diluted the vivid memories he has of seeing the Pentagon engulfed in flames and smoke.
“I constantly look and listen to see how close planes come in,” he said. “I’m still jumpy four years later.”
MANY OF THOSE interviewed expressed the desire that subsequent generations continue public ceremonies to remember the terrorist attack.
Jeanine Brundage, a teacher at Randolph Elementary School, said that students need to spend more time in classes discussing the impact of the attacks, which killed almost 3,000 people in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Brundage, whose son is deployed in Iraq, said she was concerned that the event would lose its resonance in the coming years and drew a parallel to Pearl Harbor Day, which many Americans no longer observe.
On Sept. 10 Park Ranger Frank Cucurullo told a crowd of tourists at Arlington National Cemetery about the chaos and excitement of being in charge of the cemetery that day. Cucurullo helped facilitate the operations of military officers and FBI agents, who entered the cemetery for surveillance purposes, and Pentagon workers on their way home after evacuating the building.
“I replay that day constantly and think of what I could have done differently,” said Cucurullo, whose brother was near the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. “Whenever I look at the Pentagon now I think of that day.”
Though most people in attendance said that their sense of vulnerability has yet to dissipate four years later, Arlington officials urged the population to remain vigilant in the face of terrorist threats while remembering the lessons learned from the attack.
“The country needs to think of ways not to forget and use this experience and the memories for shaping the future direction of the country,” Fisette said.