Respect for fallen comrades brings 25,000 mourners to Pentagon memorial service

by SFC Kathleen Rhem

WASHINGTON � Men and women, officers and enlisted, military and civilian alike shuddered and wiped away tears as the names of those killed in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon Sept. 11 scrolled along giant screens to the haunting strains of "Amazing Grace" during the Oct. 11 memorial service at the military�s scarred headquarters.

The 25,000 mourners at the Pentagon memorial service came from all walks of life, but with a single and singular purpose: to honor their fallen comrades.

Pentagon memorial service for Sept. 11 victims Grief was evident in every direction as some 25,000 people paid their respects Oct. 11 to those killed a month earlier in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon.

"It presents kind of a unified front for the military to show support for our fallen comrades, both military and civilian," LTC Charles Reed said. "It�s important because we believe we�re a family as opposed to an organization."

MAJ Dennis Fiemeyer, Reed�s coworker in the Defense Department�s International Security Affairs office, agreed. "I think it�s important to share this with people who have worked here, that we�re one big family," he said. Both men were in the building Sept. 11.

"This is just what we�ve got to do," said Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Mike Parris, who works for the Joint Staff.

Air Force MAJ Jack Clarke, also of the Joint Staff, noted that military members know they could ultimately die for their country, but the civilians who were killed were caught totally unaware.

"For the civilians, this was a sacrifice they weren�t even aware could be part of their lives in the Pentagon," he said. Clarke also noted Sept. 11 has changed the way his family views his duty in the Pentagon, normally considered safe duty for military members who are used to serving in sometimes-precarious situations in far-flung corners of the world.

"My children and my wife are concerned," he said. "This really brought home what being in the military can mean and the sacrifices you could be asked to make as a member of the service."

Marine Gunnery Sgt. Larry Brinson said he knew some of the soldiers killed Sept. 11. He said it was appropriate the service was held at the Pentagon, the attack site.

"There�s a healing process that needs to happen," said Brinson, who works in the Marines� Department of Aviation. "This is just one step further in that process. More importantly, it shows those who did this that we�re not going to back down."

Army National Guard Chaplain (MAJ) Clark Carr had one word to describe why so many people turned out for a memorial service for people they didn�t even know. "Solidarity," he said.

Carr described how the military had posted chaplains throughout the crowd to comfort and provide for the spiritual needs of the grieving. A pastor in a Maryland suburb, Carr said roughly 50 chaplains were on hand to comfort family members of those killed and about another 30 to move through the crowd.

Sadly, he noted, "being there" is all the chaplains can do in the face of so much loss. "Our mission is to provide presence," he said. "Nothing we can do is enough, so being here is just one token."

There could be no doubt but that this predominantly military crowd was firmly united behind their commander in chief. Cheers met every mention of retribution President George W. Bush made during his short speech.

"I think it was very appropriate when the president said we would continue (the fight against terrorism) until it was over," Brinson said. But even this hardcore leatherneck was affected by the high emotions during the ceremony.

"At the heart of all of this I�m still a Marine," he said after the ceremony, "but I was pulling back tears the whole time."

SFC Rhem writes for American Forces Press Service.

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