It started out as just another day in the Pentagon.
Uniformed military troops and Department of Defense civilians were commuting to work under a near cloudless sky, sipping their coffee, reading the morning paper and preparing for the usual round of meetings.
“It promised to be a beautiful day,” Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Friday, exactly 19 years later.
It all changed at 9:37 a.m. when American Airlines Flight 77 with its 53 passengers and 6 crew members, struck the western section of the Pentagon. The impact and the fire that raged for days afterward killed 184 men, women and children.
“The innocent ranged in age from 3 to 71,” Gen. Milley said Friday during an early morning memorial service near the crash site. “They were killed for what they believed in and what they represented.”
The youngest victim was Dana Falkenberg. The oldest was John Yamnicky. Their names, along with 182 other victims, are inscribed on benches at the Pentagon Memorial, near the spot where the jetliner struck the building. Health concerns from the COVID-19 pandemic made Friday’s memorial service a more muted affair, with restrictions on attendance and social distancing enforced for those who were invited to be there.
Like others in New York, many of those who were at the Pentagon that day ran back inside the smoldering ruins to pull their fellow Americans to safety, said Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.
“Those heroes demonstrated to the world — especially to our enemies — the resilience of America’s armed forces and our people,” Mr. Esper said during the ceremony. “We honor and remember their numerous acts of heroism and personal courage.”
Even as the firefighters and rescue crews worked to free trapped Pentagon employees, other teams of engineers and mechanics jumped into action to keep the building operating.
“It allowed the Pentagon to continue its vital role of directing the readiness and response of United States military forces worldwide without missing a beat,” Mr. Esper said.
The victims at the Pentagon, along with those in New York and Shanksville, Pa., represent the kind of principles that Americans hold dear — free speech, due process and rising and falling based on merit. The nation’s enemies, General Milley said, “hate those ideas. They hate those values.”
On Sept. 11, 2001, they tried to destroy us, General Milley said.
“But we came together as a nation,” he said.
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