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Pentagon Ash Trees: Living Legacies For 9-11 Victims

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2002 – Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, three members of Congress and survivors of victims of the Pentagon terrorist attack gathered here today to plant a tree -- and hope for the future.

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Rennea Butler shovels soil onto the roots of a champion red ash tree Sept. 10, 2002, during a Pentagon dedication ceremony honoring victims of the terrorist attack on the Pentagon Sept. 11, 2001. Butler lost her twin sister, Samantha, in the attack. The ash tree was one of nine planted at the Pentagon. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore.

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Nine red ash trees, all genetic replicas of a 400-year-old, 95-foot-tall National Champion red ash in Dowagiac, Mich., were planted on Pentagon grounds near the Metro bus station, noted Terry Mock, executive director of the Champion Tree Project. His group co-sponsored the event with the National Tree Trust.

Eight ash trees were planted over the weekend, Mock said. The ninth, he added, was held for the Pentagon Memorial Tree Planting ceremony to honor the 125 Pentagon employees and 59 passengers on Flight 77 who lost their lives a year ago tomorrow.

Wolfowitz welcomed Michiganders Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin, Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Rep. Bart Stupak; and family members of victims and other distinguished guests.

He remarked that the trees are near a bustling bus station used daily by thousands of the Pentagon's military and civilian employees.

"It is fitting that we remember the co-workers, family members, and friends who lived their lives with energy and purpose, to remember them with trees whose roots will grow deep and whose branches will literally reach for heaven," Wolfowitz said.

The trees represent a living legacy for the patriots killed at the Pentagon and to those who died at the other attack sites, he said. The trees' resilience, he added, pays tribute to the stoicism of survivors and national resolve to see the war through to victory en route to building a better world.

Rennea Butler said she lost her twin sister, Samantha Lightbourn-Allen, an Army civilian budget analyst, in the Pentagon terror attack. Butler was accompanied at the ceremony by her mother, Rebecca, and her sister's 17-year- old son, John.

Butler, who with her mother and other survivors shoveled soil over the roots of the new tree, found comfort in Wolfowitz's address.

"It was good the way he described the (tree's) branches reaching up to heaven," she remarked. "That was a good symbol."

The ash trees indeed represent resilience, Mock remarked, adding they "have withstood all of the Industrial Age and many, many stresses that nature and man have thrown at them -- and have survived."

The Champion Tree Project is a nonprofit organization that has donated trees in memory of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on America. The organization in April planted trees at the site where the World Trade Center's Twin Towers had stood in New York City.

Retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. George L. Cates, former executive director of the National Tree Trust, initiated the Pentagon tree memorial.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMichiganders Rep. Bart Stupak (from left), Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin listen as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz addresses terror attack survivors Sept. 10, 2002, at a Pentagon memorial tree planting ceremony. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore.  
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