Hundreds of people gathered Wednesday at an Arlington County plaza three miles from the Pentagon and observed a moment of silence commemorating the Sept. 11 anniversary in a short, simple ceremony to remember a tragedy that no one has forgotten.
An honor guard presented the colors Wednesday at Arlington's Courthouse Plaza to mark the 12th anniversary of the attacks. A moment of silence followed at 9:37 a.m., when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the west side of the Pentagon, killing 184 people.
Arlington County is home to the Pentagon, and first responders from Arlington were among the first on the scene that day. They received praise for leading a coordinated, efficient response to the attack.
Fire Chief James Schwartz, who was incident commander at the Pentagon after the attacks, said 40 percent of the county's current firefighters were on the staff 12 years ago.
Schwartz said ceremonies like Wednesday's serve as a reminder of why first responders spend so much time preparing for disaster.
"I've often said this has been the fastest 12 years of my life. But if you are a surviving family member, I'd imagine this has been the longest 12 years of your life, because you're waking up every day with a hole in your heart,'' Schwartz said.
Among those attending the ceremony was Arlington resident Bahar Hess. Her friend's son - David Charlebois, an Arlington County native - was first officer on Flight 77.
Hess said she remembers volunteering at a blood drive at the Pentagon six days after the attack, and that the smell of smoke was still in the air. She recalled being afraid to ride Metrorail for nearly a year after the attack, standing time and again at the top of the Ballston Metro station, afraid of being trapped underground. She started taking the bus.
"It feels like yesterday,'' she said.
Other ceremonies are scheduled Wednesday in Alexandria, Fort Belvoir and throughout northern Virginia. President Barack Obama and Vice President Biden led a moment of silence at the Pentagon. First lady Michelle Obama is expected at Belvoir on Wednesday afternoon. Later in the day, actor and veterans' advocate Gary Sinise will perform at the base.