By Dan De Luce

WASHINGTON — US military and political leaders on Sunday paid solemn tribute to the victims of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon and to troops who have waged a war of "vengeance" in the decade since.

"Lives ended in this place. Dreams were shattered. Futures were instantly altered. Hopes were tragically dashed," Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a ceremony marking the day a hijacked airliner slammed into the Pentagon ten years ago.

Mullen, joined by Vice President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, said the attack inspired a new generation to join the armed forces as the country sought retribution against Al-Qaeda militants.

"From this place of wrath and tears, America's military ventured forth as the long arm and clenched fist of an angry nation at war.

"And we have remained at war ever since, visiting upon our enemies the vengeance they were due and providing for the American people the common defense they demand," Mullen said.

As victims' families sat under a blistering sun, a Navy chorus sang "Amazing Grace" before troops from every branch of the military laid a wreath one-by-one at each marker for those killed in the attack.

The ceremony opened at about the same time American Airlines Flight 77, a hijacked Boeing 757, struck the Pentagon at 9:37 am on the morning of September 11, 2001.

The attack, which caused a section of the western wing of the building to collapse in a cloud of black smoke, killed all 59 people aboard the plane and 125 people working at the Pentagon, along with the five hijackers.

President Barack Obama also visited the Pentagon memorial on Sunday to lay a wreath, after paying his respects at memorials at Ground Zero in New York and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where United Airlines Flight 93 went down.

The Pentagon ceremony came a day after a suicide bombing in Afghanistan that underscored the dangers of the grinding ten-year-old war there, where nearly 100,000 US troops remain deployed.

With 50 US soldiers wounded in Saturday's attack on a NATO combat post, Biden called the bombing in Wardak province "a stark and vivid reminder this war continues."

Biden, referring to the loss of his first wife and baby daughter years ago as a young senator, told victims' families he understood their plight.

"I know what it?s like to receive that call out of the blue that the dearest thing in your life is gone," said Biden, his voice breaking with emotion.

"No memorial, no ceremony, no words will ever fill the void left in your hearts by their loss."

The September 11 attacks were a "declaration of war" by stateless extremists who believed they "could buckle our knees, could bend our will, could begin to break us and break our resolve," Biden said.

"But they did not know us."

Instead, the hijackers awoke a "sleeping giant," he said.

Biden said the "9/11 generation" that signed up to serve in uniform has brought the fight to Al-Qaeda and its former leader, Osama bin Laden, who was killed in a May 2nd raid on his compound in Pakistan.

"They were prepared to follow bin Laden to hell's gate if necessary and they got him," he said.

Biden vowed to keep up the fight "until Al-Qaeda is not only disrupted, but completely dismantled and ultimately destroyed."

The one military officer who spoke, Admiral Mullen, added that the best way to honor the victims of the 9/11 attacks was to live a full life.

Mullen said he hoped the country would follow the example set by the victims' families by "heeding the better angels of our nature, never forgetting, being grateful for each moment, helping others, and most of all living life and living it well.

"That is victory."

The wife of a naval officer killed in the Pentagon on 9/11, Lisa Dolan, said she comes to the memorial every year "to make sure people don't forget."

"We now have a 20-year span of children who don't remember September 11," said Dolan, 50, of Alexandria, Virginia.

"I want to make sure 9/11 is remembered, that it's not a blip in history."

Around her neck, Dolan wore her husband's graduation ring from the US naval academy, which was found by an FBI agent at the attack site.

"This is the only personal effect I received back," she said.

Her husband, Captain Robert Dolan, was working at the Navy's command center inside the Pentagon when the airliner hit.

Copyright © 2011 AFP. All rights reserved.