WASHINGTON – The reverie "Taps," the reading of a Koran verse by an Islamic Army chaplain, and a roll call of the 189 military members, defense contractors, airline passengers and crew members who died when American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon Sept. 11 highlighted a memorial service Thursday marking one month since the attack.
Thousands collected outside the Pentagon — on the other side of the building from where Flight 77 hit — to pay their respects to the 64 people on the plane and estimated 125 inside.
"Our [Defense Department] colleagues working in the Pentagon that day would insist they were only doing their jobs but we know better," said Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, the newly-appointed head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "We know and they knew that they were serving their country, and suddenly on 11 September they were called to make the ultimate sacrifice, and for that we call them heroes."
"They died because in the words and justification offered by their attackers they were Americans," said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "They died then because of how they lived as free men and women, proud of their freedom, proud of their country, and proud of their country's cause, the cause of human freedom."
President Bush, returning to the Pentagon for the first time since military action against Afghanistan began Sunday, attended not only to honor the dead but to reinforce his administration's commitment to the military personnel now carrying out his campaign against Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda organization and their Taliban hosts.
"Today we are a nation awakened to the evil of terrorism and determined to eradicate it," Bush said. "This week I have called the armed forces into action. One by one we are eliminating the power centers of a regime that harbors Al Qaeda terrorists. We gave that regime a choice — turn over the terrorists or face your ruin. They chose unwisely," Bush said.
On Thursday, U.S. officials said they were having great success taking out Taliban command and control centers. There has been no word on when the campaign will become a ground operation.
Aside from supervising the military campaign, Bush has spent the week re-emphasizing many fronts taken by the administration to stop terror, including efforts to block funds of terrorists and their associates. On Friday, the White House plans to release another list of names — possibly as many as 21 — of organizations and individuals linked to bin Laden and Al Qaeda, and to cut them off their financial assets.
Last month, the president moved to freeze assets of bin Laden and 26 other people and organizations with suspected links to terrorism. The administration said recently that millions of dollars were blocked and 50 bank accounts frozen, 30 in this country and 20 overseas.
Bush also looked at ways to revive the American economy, which was suffering even before the attacks. Possible solutions include tax rebates for low-income earners and acceleration of the tax-cut schedules passed by Congress early this past summer.
At the Pentagon, Bush emphasized that he would provide the military with every asset and resource needed to fight terror.
"You will have everything you need — every resource, every weapon, every means to assure full victory for the U.S. and the cause of freedom," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.