[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/09/11/us.sept.11/art.obama.shake.911.gi.jpg caption="President Obama addresses family members and friends who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001."]
CNN Senior Pentagon Producer
The day stood in stark contrast to the sunny, brisk morning eight years ago. Chaos surrounded this patch of land at the Pentagon that day. But now a steady rain bathed it in a calm silence as the memorial service began.
Holding umbrellas, President Obama, Defense Secretary Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen stood at the entrance of the Pentagon memorial. It is marked by a stone embedded in the ground with the September 11th date and time, 9:37a.m., reminding people of the exact moment when hijacked American Airlines flight 77 was flown into the building killing 184 people.
The three stood silently listening to a military band play the National Anthem, each than spoke about the day.
President Obama was observing his first September 11th as the commander in chief.
"Eight Septembers have come and gone. Nearly 3,000 days have passed; almost one for each of those taken from us," the president said, now standing uncovered in the rain. "But no turning of the season can diminish the pain and the loss of that day, no passage of time and no dark skies can ever dull the meaning of this moment."
One year ago the Pentagon memorial was dedicated in a public ceremony. Friday, the ceremony was for the families only. The rain did not deter, as about 300 family members of those 184 people killed stood by the individual memorials to each victim.
Secretary Gates spoke to those families and to those who survived.
"Words are inadequate to remove the pain of that loss. In the lives of these patriots, we can find some solace," Gates said.
"Because they lived, and because of the great pinnacle of their sacrifice, and because of the sacrifice of thousands more since that day, we remain a strong and free nation," he continued.
Since that day eight years ago, the country has had its troops at war eventually spreading to two conflict zones with more than one million enlisting after September 11, 2001.
Adm. Mullen took the moment to speak about the men and women serving in uniform that he said are protecting this country from future attacks.
"In harm's way you have deployed them and in harm's way they stand for you and for each other," Mullen said to the crowd. "Eight years of war has changed our troops and their families, but it has not bested them."
"Indeed, it is difficult to describe the selflessness I see when I visit them in the field and in the fleet, in hospitals and here at home," he said.
All three left their speeches short and to the point directing their thoughts on the day, not discussing the battle in the country where the September 11th attacks were planned.
Politically, the war is quickly losing favor in the United States as death tolls mount and additional troops continue to move into Afghanistan with possibly more troops to be requested from the commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal later this year.
This year has been the deadliest in the Afghan campaign, and as more troops enter the country the number of deaths is expected to increase Gates has said.
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