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A Day of Remembrance

Aired September 11, 2011 - 15:25   ET



I'm Fredericka Whitfield in Atlanta.

We continue our coverage of the remembrances of 9/11, 10 years later.

You're looking at live pictures right now at the Pentagon, where President Barack Obama has just arrived after spending a poignant and moving morning and midday at both Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan with the relatives of the victims of 9/11 and then paying respects at a solemn Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

President Barack Obama now arriving at the Pentagon. We understand there, that's where American Airlines Flight 77, as you recall, 10 years ago, crashed into the Pentagon, claiming the lives of 184 people.

You're looking at the live shot right now. And also in the foreground, you're seeing these benches. These benches mark the 184 lives lost, that being in memorial -- in memorium of the very many who were killed on that fateful day.

The president will be arriving there, meeting with some of the families of the victims, who will also be there. We understand he'll also be laying a wreath. There will also be a moment of silence taking place. You see it right there, President Barack Obama with the first lady, Michelle Obama.

We're going to take a short pause here and listen in, as the president and the first lady make their way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get out of the way.


WHITFIELD: We understand the president will be meeting now with the victims' families and other victims, survivors of that tragic day 10 years ago, 9/11. He will be entering a memorial there, the president will, along with the first lady, and having that face-to-face time with those family members and victims.

On that day 10 years ago, our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, was also there.

She is there once again, helping us to recall what happened 10 years ago. And, of course, moving forward now, as the nation stops to remember what happened -- Barbara, this moment is interesting, because there have been several appearances at the Pentagon representing two administrations, at least. The Bush administration, with Donald Rumsfeld being there earlier throughout the weekend. Seeing the vice president there earlier today. And now the president of the United States at the Pentagon.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, Fred, I think here at the Pentagon, at a moment like this, as we look at the flag, the point of impact when that plane slammed into the building, for the Pentagon, today it's really family business, you know, not politics. So many of these families have been out here every year. Today, they were out here, of course, early in the morning for the earlier ceremonies and have waited for hours in the sun to see the president of the United States, as he previously had been in Shanksville and in New York. This is sort of wrapping up today's events.

The memorial is actually open to the public. If people come to Washington, they can't go inside the Pentagon, necessarily, but they can visit this memorial, walk amongst the trees, the small water ponds, the benches, memorializing each of the 184 souls lost that day, ranging in the age from three, a toddler on the airplane, to some of the older people that worked in the building.

It is the history of this country that was written that day. As I was telling, Wolf earlier, you might remember one of the older men in the building, an Army civilian who died that day, was a man named Max Beilke. Max Beilke, as a young man, decades earlier, had been the last combat soldier out of Vietnam and came home and lived a peaceful life for many decades and was killed here on that morning. And it's those kinds of moments of history that sort of give us all a bit of a chill.

Washington, the security has been very tight for the last couple of days, just like New York. But just like New York, the people are out. Nobody is staying home. Nobody is hiding away. Everyone is out today paying -- here at the Pentagon, paying their remembrances -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: And, Barbara, did many of the victims at the Pentagon, who were either witness to or permanently disfigured or injured, similar to a man that you profiled in your piece, the burn victim, have many of them returned to the Pentagon today to meet with the first lady and the president?

STARR: Well, many of the -- many of those who were injured did come back to work. Some are here today. Some are family members.

But I want to recall and tell you about one woman, Colonel Marilyn Wills. We got to know her years ago. This was an amazing Army woman. She had to jump out a second story window, flames at her back, into the arms of a Navy SEAL waiting two stories below, who begged her to jump to save her life.

She did jump. And I came to know Marilyn very well and recently found out Marilyn, Colonel Wills is on duty in Afghanistan. So the Pentagon is a little bit different, I would say, than any other place. So many of the military people have deployed time and time again. They come back, they do a tour of duty here, they go overseas again, as Colonel Wills has. But it's sort of that military family, isn't it, that comes together.

And I think even if people in the armed services are not here today, they are watching this and remembering. So many have fallen.

Let me also tell you very briefly about another young man, Master Sergeant Benjamin Stevenson, U.S. Army Special Forces. He was killed in Afghanistan in July in a firefight. He was on his tenth tour of duty. So while we pay our respects to those on 9/11, of course, 9/11 was just the first link, wasn't it, in what would become a long line of a decade of sacrifice and duty on the part of the U.S. military -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: And, Barbara, just looking at the expressions here, as the president and first lady are talking with people, there seem to be an awful lot more smiles, even kind of a jovial presence among people who are meeting the president and first lady here at the Pentagon, quite the contrast from what we saw earlier today in Shanksville and in New York.

Does this really speak to a certain type of resilience that, perhaps, the military culture embraces or is exhibiting than in the other two locations today?

STARR: You know, perhaps it does. So many of these people have lived in this world of the U.S. military for -- for so long. I think a lot of Americans are, you know, when they meet the president of the United States, must -- whoever is serving at that moment -- must just feel a sense of awe and a bit of thrill and a smile at meeting the commander- in-chief. But that's it. Here, this is their commander-in-chief. And that's very important here.

What you do hear from a lot of young military troops right now is after so many years, they just want to know that somebody remembers they're out there, that, you know, that their service is not just recalled on a holiday or a ceremony like this.

They would just like to be assured that America remembers they're serving 365 days a year. That's kind of the feeling that you get when you talk to the troops, when you talk to their families. That's, I think, partially part of the feeling that -- that you're seeing on your screen right now. These people know that every president of the United States appreciates their military service.

So it may be just a bit different than New York or Shanksville. But make no mistake, there is always ongoing grief as part of the remembrance here. I think it's just that the military people probably pick themselves up a little bit and put one foot in front of the other because it's what they're trained to do. It's part of their profession -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Earlier, Barbara, the vice president was there, having some remarks, saying that his memory of the attacks, quote, "a declaration of war by stateless actors bent on changing our way of life. The goal -- to break us. They did not know us."

And earlier a flag -- an enormous U.S. flag was draped over the impact point there at the Pentagon.

Is that still in place, and, if so, for how long?

STARR: Well, we expect the flag to be in place until dusk or sunset today. That is the impact point. Ten years ago, as we all stood outside in utter shock and horror, trying to do our jobs, that flag was unfurled by a group of first responders, if my memory serves. It was firemen and policemen and some Pentagon workers, construction workers, that assisted in getting up to the roof.

It was very slowly unfurled. There was a slow salute. It was the sign that at the Pentagon, across this country. People were not running away. The flag was out and Americans were standing up and responding.

Here at the Pentagon, on that day, the Pentagon never shut down. There were flames. There was smoke. There was terrible devastation. The dead and the wounded tended to But I would say that, really, at the behest of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who refused to leave the building. He just wouldn't go, no matter how much his security people wanted him to, he stayed. So the top generals stayed. So many people stayed and were back in the very next morning, early in the early hours.

This is a place that did not shut down. It kept going. The U.S. military headquarters, I think I've said it before and I will say it again, for the United States military, in this place, on that day, retreat, no retreat, no surrender. The dead and the wounded were attended to, as they are on every battlefield where the U.S. military fights. And they picked themselves up and began to plan what was necessary ahead.

I can remember with utter clarity, as I was walking around outside as the fire was raging, an Army general I knew very well came up to me through the devastation and said, "We are at war." And for someone like myself, who had never been through something like this, that is a moment that stays with you forever -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: And perhaps, Barbara, as we continue to look at the pictures of the president there and relatives of the victims at the Pentagon, there from 9/11 who are taking pictures and, you know, exchanging glances and smiles there, perhaps this is also kind of a moment of exhale, when earlier today, it was, indeed, very solemn. The scene was very solemn there at the Pentagon, just as it was as Ground Zero, just as it was in Shanksville, with the vice president, who was also wiping away tears earlier today when he spoke. And the Defense secretary, Leon Panetta, the new Defense secretary, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, all, too, spoke solemnly of the lives lost and talked of the heroes who really sprinted into action to help out people.

Perhaps now, people today, at this hour, are feeling kind of a sense of relief from what has been a very heavy morning, heavy day.

STARR: Well, I think so. I think that's a great point, Fred. It has been an exhausting day for so many people in this country. The weather is very warm. It's very hot.

I'm really amazed -- I shouldn't be, but I am -- to see so many people have waited out in the heat for so many hours to see the president.

And I think that's a great point. You know, since Wednesday, when that terrorist threat came to light, I think so many people in the country have been on nervous edge, and especially in New York and Washington, with all of the security measures and all of the concern. And maybe at the end of this very long, tiring, hot day and this very long week, people just want to have a smile, shake a hand. The president certainly saying thank you to those military troops, to the families. And the families, obviously, and these young military people that you see, obviously very delighted to see the president of the United States.

WHITFIELD: And while you and I, Barbara, continue to talk here over these live pictures, we're also going to try and try to locate some of those sound bites from Joe Biden earlier today at the Pentagon. And we'll try to run those again, too, so people can kind of get an idea of all that's taking place at the Pentagon today.

So I wonder, Barbara, if, in any way, the Department of Defense has been able to say whether the -- the recruitment of military personnel has in any way picked up or perhaps the pace has remained the same over the past 10 years?

We know immediately following 9/11, there was a great spike in the interest of people who wanted to sign up to all branches of the military.

Over the past 10 years, is there a barometer in which the DOD has been able to measure whether that interest, that kind of driving compassion, has changed at all?

STARR: You know, I think right after 9/11, we saw that. Then the economy was doing well and an awful lot of young people might have chosen other careers.

As the economy has declined in recent months, what military officers tell us is they see a rise in recruitment, because young people again looking, in some cases, for the economic certainty that military service can give them while they join.

But one of the interesting things, I think Fred, is because of decade has passed, think of it this way. The young 18-, 19-, 20-year-old Americans that are now joining the United States military were just little kids back on 9/11...


STARR: you know, we meet 19- and 20-year-olds all the time, young Army and Marine personnel. They were nine and 10 years old back then, maybe not even remembering all that much about this. Some of them do, some of them don't. But we are now getting into the generation of young people joining the military who truly were children back on 9/11. As I said a minute ago, what you're also seeing, though, is time and time again, the repeated deployment, especially for America's Special Operations forces, such as those who went on the Osama bin Laden raid, because they are so heavily used. We are now seeing them serving nine, 10 tours in the war zone. These are the kinds of things that change military lives and military families forever. You know, it's a mixed picture. There are, as always, tens of thousands who come home from war, resume their lives, move on and lead very peaceful lives for decades to come.

In this war, there are tens of thousands who's have struggled when they come home, struggled with unemployment, homelessness, traumatic brain injuries, terrible wounds.

I want to tell you, you know, the faces that are appearing before me of those troops I've come to know over the years. Lieutenant Andrew Kinard, United States Marine Corps, an amazing young man who only served briefly in Iraq before he was grievously wounded, losing both his legs in the war. Andrew is now a double major at Harvard Law and Harvard Business School, as a double amputee, earning degrees at both of those schools, quite determined to go on with his life.

We sadly know of so many who have struggled the other way, struggled with homelessness, as I say. But it's -- it's a mixed picture. But maybe that's because it has been a decade of war. The American public has never been at war as long as this. And so this is something that is changing the landscape probably forever -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Countless examples of both resilience and recovery.

As a Pentagon correspondent, you are at the Pentagon on a regular basis.

So when you get to the building, or perhaps there are people you talk to on a regular basis, do they speak about how they feel that day, the presence of that day with them every day that they enter the building, even 10 years after the fact?

STARR: You know, I'll speak for myself first and say there is not a day that I can possibly forget, when you walk in this building, the security measures, the somberness of what has happened here. It's something that cannot be forgotten. You know, even in our CNN office here in the press area, inside the Pentagon, we have a breakaway window in this office. We have a special window in the event of a fire or a disaster. The window, theoretically, the fire department tells us, should break away and we would be able to escape the building that way.

This is a building where there are heavily armed security personnel, as there are in many buildings in Washington. So it's sort of with you all the time.

Do people talk about it all the time? No. I mean, I think there's that human healing mechanism where most of the time, you're so busy with your daily life or your daily work. But there are those moments. We profiled a man earlier, John Yates, a civilian security worker here in the building, who was so badly burned. He is here still working every day. If you see John Yates in the hallway, you know what John Yates went through.

So there are still those markers every day -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Yes, and if not a reminder, there is some resonance.

Barbara Starr, thanks so much.

We're going to take a short break right now of our continuing coverage of 9/11 10 years after the fact, a day of remembrance. Again, live pictures right now. The president of the United States at the Pentagon meeting with family members of the victims of the Pentagon, that tragedy on 9/11 10 years ago.

We'll be right -- right back after this.


WHITFIELD: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of 9/11, 10 years later.

You're looking at live pictures, the president of the United States and the first lady at the Pentagon there, meeting with relatives of the victims of 9/11. American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon 10 years ago. The lives of 184 people were lost.

Also, just moments ago, perhaps about 45 minutes or so ago, the president of the United States laying a wreath there in front of the Pentagon. Not far from that location, impact point there at the Pentagon, where that flight crashed into it, right now being marked by a huge American flag on the side of the Pentagon building.

He laid the wreath there and then there was also a moment of silence. And then earlier today, a very different mood taking place. Right now, seemingly, a little jovial, perhaps a -- a real sense of an exhale after a very heavy day. Many of the family members are very excited there had to see the president and the first lady.

Earlier today, a very somber setting. The vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, with these remarks.


JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Al Qaeda and bin Laden never imagined that the 3,000 people who lost their lives that day would inspire three million to put on the uniform and harden the resolve of 300 million Americans. They never imagined the sleeping giant they were about to awaken. They never imagined these things because they did not understand what enables us, what has always enabled us, to withstand any test that comes our way. But you understood. (END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: And if you notice, in the background of Joe Biden, as he was speaking, the vice president there, you also saw these remarkable artful looking benches behind him, each bench representing each life taken on that dreadful day 10 years ago on 9/11. That is the site of one memorial there outside the Pentagon.

It didn't take long before that memorial was erected. Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, with us now. You were there at the Pentagon on 9/11. You have been there throughout the day, as well, helping people remember what happened and how the Pentagon has been able to move forward, how so many lives have been able to move forward and become even more resilient, show even greater resolve than ever before, 10 years after the fact -- Barbara.

STARR: Well, you know, Fred, maybe part of that at the Pentagon is because the building was repaired and rebuilt within one year. I mean, really, a year to the day, the construction workers, the Pentagon leadership, they -- they worked around the clock day and night. This became a construction zone. They were determined to get the building repaired, you know, that -- that took away the physical scar that the country could no longer see. The deeper scars, of course, are within the military families, the military people who serve.

But as you look at that building right there and you look at the flag hanging, that was a place of utter, utter devastation 10 years ago -- flames five stories tall, the roof collapsing. The fire department trying desperately to put out the fire. People trying to go in and save whoever they could. It was extraordinary that more lives were not lost, in no small part, because where the plane hit was not a fully occupied section of the building at the time.

The terrorists certainly didn't know that it was a part of the building that had been renovated, actually, and had a lot of stronger construction measures in it. The Pentagon is six -- was 60 years old 10 years ago. And so this is a building that was potentially fragile until this renovation was recently completed around the entire building. It was quite a thing when It was -- there was quite a ceremony here when it all reopened. I think people were very relieved at that point, in a way.

But maybe some of it took away the country's ability to, you know, recall, because in New York, of course, it has taken some time for that rebuilding and the memorials there to -- to come to pass. Shanksville, a rural area. Here at the Pentagon, they were determined to get on with it and get the building fixed and get it -- get it repaired.

WHITFIELD: And, Barbara, we're going to stay outside of the Pentagon with these live pictures of the president of the United States shaking hands with relatives of the victims, etc. But tell me about inside. Apparently, there are some memorials inside that pay homage to the lives lost and the heroism that was displayed. STARR: You bet. Let me tell people, you know, it's a secure building, so you can't just wander in. But if you could, or you could get permission to come in, where that flag is, down on the first floor, there is a memorial chapel. Services of all denominations are held there -- Catholic, Jewish, Islamic, everything. Throughout a week, services of all faiths are held there.

But at that chapel inside the building, just below the flag, there is also a memorial wall where the names are inscribed, as we now see on so many memorials, of all 184 souls lost.

When we have visiting dignitaries at the Pentagon, often they come to this chapel to pay their respects.

There is another small memorial area where the Navy command center was, where so many people were killed. There is, in the hallway, where there are Army offices, where the plane hit, there is a memorial to those lost in that Army office. Their photos are up in a permanent display. They are remembered every day by their co-workers. You see this kind of thing throughout the building, if you work here, as we do as journalists who cover the building.

There's a lot of, you know, after 10 years, there's a lot of people who have come to work here who weren't there that day. They, you know, they're -- over the last 10 years, life moves on. People come and go. So often, it's -- it seems very odd to me, but you see people standing at these displays inside the building trying to figure out, you know, is this, where the plane hit?

Is this where the wreckage was?

Is this where there was that open, gaping wound in the building?

For those of us who were here, you know every step of the way. But other people new to the building are learning all about it every day -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Barbara Starr, thank you so much.

Those memorials, in so many different ways, paying homage to the lives lost, the heroism displayed. And at this moment, the president of the United States, along with the first lady, giving thanks to a number of the relatives of those victims. And, in large part, kind of helping to bring some relief that a lot of people have been feeling like they needed all day long, after a very heavy, somber day of paying respect to the 3,000 and some people -- Americans killed on 9/11 10 years ago at the Pentagon, in Shanksville, Pennsylvania and in New York's Ground Zero.

We're going to continue our coverage of a day of remembrance after this.