At a somber and soggy ceremony held in the courtyard of the County Justice Center on Monday, Arlington remembered the local victims of the tragedy that shook the nation five years ago.
A CROWD of 300 people participated in the ceremony to remember those who died on Sept. 11, 2001, as well as to honor those who responded to the emergency to prevent further casualties.
Speaking amidst a series of enormous American flags draping the county buildings and red, white and blue bunting decorating the courtyard, Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman opened the program. He was followed by Rep. Jim Moran (D-8), who praised the "absolutely perfect management" of the emergency by fire and police units and spoke of the remarkable cohesion he has seen in Arlington in the years since the attacks, while decrying the lack of unity at the national level.
Following the remarks, the crowd observed a moment of silence before Sgt. 1st Class Antonio S. Guiliano of the U.S. Army Band "Pershing's Own" sang the national anthem.
Then, at 9:37 a.m. — exactly five years after American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon — a procession of elected officials and members of the police and fire departments began to ring a bell, counting off 184 tolls in remembrance of those who died. The crowd remained absolutely silent, the solemnity of the occasion reinforced by ominous black clouds overhead and a steady drizzle.
Police Det. Sandra Barksdale of the Arlington County Police stood in the crowd as she recalled that day five years earlier. Arriving on the scene about 30 minutes after the plane had crashed into the Pentagon, Barksdale encountered a chaotic scene at the Pentagon as she tried to help evacuate the building and direct traffic on Washington Boulevard. She remembers that the crowd was reluctant to take the operation seriously until the emergency personnel themselves began to evacuate. That day Barksdale had to deal with the added stress of trying to contact her husband, who was also involved in the emergency operations as a Battalion Chief in the Arlington Fire Department, as well as coordinating with the daycare center of her 4-year-old daughter.
A COUNTY employee from the Czech Republic who declined to be identified spoke of the impact of 9/11. "For those of us who have lived in other countries, it was a big awakening," she said, referring to the vulnerability of the United States.
Jim Schwartz, the current Fire Chief who was the Incident Commander on 9/11, spoke of the "surreal" nature of the events of five years ago. He was impressed by the ceremony, saying, "It's sort of low-key, but we get a great involvement. It's all about the solemness of the occasion."
Moran caused some controversy by criticizing the Bush administration's policies during his remarks, saying, "More people hate us." An unidentified woman in the crowd interrupted the speech to yell, "Don't make this political!" before storming off.
Several other observers agreed, including Flo McKinley, who was visiting from Cleveland. "I thought it was a shame that the ceremony got political," she said. "I thought it was uncalled for."
"Everybody's view is respected," said Moran when asked to comment. "This is an open society."