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Recap Of Events At Pentagon

AUDIE CORNISH, host: We now turn to the Pentagon and NPR's Tom Bowman. Tom, you were there at the ceremony this morning honoring those who died when United Airlines flight 77 hit the building 10 years ago. Describe the ceremony.

TOM BOWMAN: Well, it was the top military leadership, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. And also Vice President Joe Biden was here, too, talking to some 1,200 family members and also about 150 survivors of the attacks, those who were wounded that day. And all the speakers really talked about how the attack, you know, is still fresh. The wounds are, in some cases, still raw.

But they also talked about how it strengthened the resolve of the American people and here is Vice President Joe Biden. Let's listen to what he had to say.

Vice President JOE BIDEN: Al-Qaida and bin Laden never imagined that the 3,000 people who lost their lives that day would inspired 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.

CORNISH: Tom, do we know how military enlistment changed after 9/11?

BOWMAN: Well, a huge of number of folks got into the military after 9/11 and they were, you know, people who worked on Wall Street, lawyers and so forth, who abandoned careers to join the military. There was a huge surge in recruiting at that time.

CORNISH: And how is it doing now?

BOWMAN: Military recruiting is doing quite well and part of that, frankly, is due to the poor economy. For a while, the military had trouble recruiting in the middle of the wars, once the death toll started rising and the casualties started coming home. So they were forced to take those who didn't score as well in the aptitude tests, who had minor crimes under their belt.

It was a problem for a while and the military was openly talking about that. Today, they're getting a higher quality of recruit and, again, part of that is because it's a pretty bad economy right now, Audie.

CORNISH: At the same time, there's talk that the Army and the Marines will begin to downsize once the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are over. What are you hearing about that?

BOWMAN: Well, they're talking about maybe tens of thousands of marines and soldiers being drawn down over the coming years. And one of the concerns the Marine and Army leaders have is that they don't want to draw them down too much. They're still involved in Iraq and Afghanistan. There's still, of course, about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. There were repeated deployments for many in Afghanistan. So they don't want to draw down too quickly and put an extra burden on those who remain in the military.

So, but clearly with the budget the way it is now and the cuts needed, everyone is anticipating that the cuts in troop levels will likely be larger than what anyone anticipated.

CORNISH: And Tom, in our last minute I want to hear what you heard from family members who were there for the ceremony today.

BOWMAN: Well, we talked to a couple of women today. It was Michelle Mikalov(ph) from Nashville, and also Adrian Anderson(ph) from Sacramento. And they lost their cousin, a Navy Lieutenant Commander Dave Williams. He was in the Pentagon that day in the Navy command center and was killed and, tragically, his wife was pregnant that day with their third child. And he was at the ceremony as well today, a 9-year-old boy.

But what really struck me today, the most moving part of the ceremony, was wreaths were laid at each of the benches, 184 benches of those who were killed. And you watch the family members, some of them almost lost in thought sitting on the benches or walking around hugging each other or having their pictures taken. It was really quite a moving event.

CORNISH: NPR's Tom Bowman at the Pentagon. Tom, thank you.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Audie.

CORNISH: NPR's Robert Siegel joins us again from New York where he's been observing the day's ceremony at the National September 11th Memorial and Museum. Robert, give us a sense of what we heard this morning at the events at ground zero.

ROBERT SIEGEL: Well, the main thing that we've heard and that we're still hearing is the reading of the names of those who died on 9/11 in the towers, on the planes, at the Pentagon, in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Also, those who died in 1993 at the World Trade Center in the bombing of that year.

And there are nearly 3,000 names that'll be read. We're not quite at 2,800 yet. You can figure we'll be here for another several minutes at least. We've also seen something fascinating, Audie, which is that as the families of those who died - who are really the center of this observance here - as they enter the memorial behind the stage just across West Street from where we're looking at this from 10 stories up, they're taking to the memorial.

They're the first people to actually go inside and use it. And just as people do at the Vietnam memorial in Washington D.C., they are finding the names of their loved ones which are inscribed in brass around the two large pools which form this memorial - one on the footprint of the north tower, one the south tower. And they're making rubbings, leaving roses, but above all, making rubbings of the name of their father/husband/brother/sister/wife who died on 9/11.

And you can begin to see this memorial for 9/11 being used by people. It's not open to the public yet and won't be for some time. You'll need a ticket to enter it when it does open but now it's being used by the families who are also sitting in the grass, relaxing, enjoying as best they can this day. The president gave a reading earlier. He read from the, was it the 46th Psalm?


SIEGEL: President George W. Bush read from a letter that Abraham Lincoln sent to a woman he thought he lost five sons in the Civil War. I gather she didn't, as it turns out. And we've heard from Rudolph Giuliani, then-mayor of New York City, who read from Ecclesiastes. So it's been, you know, we've heard from dignitaries who have honored the families and their presence but above all, this is a ceremony for those families.

And it's a ceremony that has entailed members of the family reading the names in alphabetical order and also including a little message for their loved one who died that day. Very moving ceremony. A very beautiful and now useful memorial for those who lost people on 9/11.

CORNISH: It's interesting to see. I can see on screen here people are placing little stemmed flowers or little American flags. They're tucking them into the engravings of the names of their loved ones as well as, as you said, placing paper over it with a pencil and making a rubbing of the etching.

SIEGEL: Yes. The flags and flowers are appearing throughout. And I must say, you know, the ceremony is - there's a rhythm to it. People stand and they articulate and they've practice the very often exotic names that they must read as they're assigned a group of a half dozen or 10 names to read. But then each gives a message to the person they lost - a bond trader, a firefighter, a passenger aboard an airplane - and one after another you see how emotional that becomes.

And how it moves from a very well-rehearsed reading to a moment that's pretty difficult for lots of people, even if it is 10 years on.

CORNISH: Especially many of those moments you have children or teenagers reading the names of family members.

SIEGEL: Yes. They're addressing their father who died or their grandmother whom they barely knew or perhaps they weren't even born yet. And I think that as big, as global event as this 10th anniversary is, the ceremony at the World Trade Center site remains something that's really mostly about those who died and those who survived them. And there's been relatively little rhetoric - no rhetoric, I should say, accompanying any of this and very little connection to any national or local policies at all.

Just remembering those who died, many in acts of courage. The great number of firefighters whom we're commemorating today, one after another, remind us of the sacrifice that was made by some pretty heroic New Yorkers on 9/11, 10 years ago.

CORNISH: And we're going to hear some of the names being read by family members at the World Trade Center site in New York.

FAMILY MEMBER: For my brother, Arcangel Vazquez. God, we thank you very much for giving me a brother like an angel. On behalf of my mother, Ida, who's in Puerto Rico...

CORNISH: You're listening to live coverage of the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.