WASHINGTON -- There were 184 wreaths -- one for every life lost when a plane hit the Pentagon 10 years ago -- and stoically and solemnly, military members laid them on benches inside the Pentagon Memorial.
The benches mark each life lost, and serve as the touching, silent focal point for the 1,600 people who watched nearby on a big-screen TV as the wreaths of white flowers were gently laid, one by one, in a patriotic ceremony at the Pentagon marking 10 years since the terrorist attacks.
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden both visited the site yesterday. And last night, the president declared in a speech at the Kennedy Center that the attacks on 9/11 didn't alter the nation's character because "America does not give in to fear."
"It will be said of us that we kept the faith -- that we took a painful blow and we emerged stronger than before," Obama said.
"In the decade since, much has changed for Americans. We've known war and recession, passionate debates and political divides . . . Yet today, it is worth remembering what has not changed."
"Our character as a nation has not changed. Our faith -- in God and each other -- that has not changed. Our belief in America, born of a timeless ideal that men and women should govern themselves; that all people are created equal, and deserve the same freedom to determine their own destiny.''
At the Pentagon, with a huge U.S. flag draped over the plane's impact point, Biden remembered the attacks as a "declaration of war by stateless actors bent on changing our way of life." The goal: "To break us."
"They did not," he said, "know us."
Instead, the attacks galvanized an entire "new generation of patriots -- the 9/11 generation," Biden said, noting that nearly 3 million men and women had signed up for armed-services duty since then "to finish a war begun here that day."
Family members, friends and relatives of those who died -- there were also more than 100 survivors in attendance -- also heard from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs. With AP