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Pentagon Memorial Dedication Prelude Ceremony (Washington, D.C.)
As Delivered by Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon R. England, Washington, D.C., Thursday, September 11, 2008

Good morning.  Families of the fallen, distinguished guests all …Welcome.  Thank you … for joining together to honor and to remember … the one-hundred and eighty-four people who lost their lives … seven years ago today … here at the Pentagon.  That peaceful morning was shattered … at 9:37am when terrorists deliberately crashed American Airlines flight 77 into the Pentagon.

It was one of the most traumatic events and darkest days in our Nation’s history.  It was also when we saw America at its finest.  Civilian and military personnel in the Pentagon … policemen, firemen, and medical personnel from the surrounding area … all rushed to the scene of the impact … to help. 

The American spirit shone forth … that  day and since … as people of all races, backgrounds, and creeds came together … and supported those in need.

As President Bush said during his televised address that evening, “Today our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature, and we responded with the best of America.”

The Pentagon Memorial will draw thousands and, in time, millions of people to this hallowed place.  It will inspire … all those who visit … to remember, to reflect, to learn … and to find comfort and inner peace.  Importantly, this Memorial will pass on the values of those we honor. 

The one-hundred and eighty-four men, women, and children who were killed that day were husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons, daughters, sisters and brothers… friends… and loved ones. 

Today, we are dedicating a profoundly moving memorial to those who died on September 11.  Yet, the enduring memory of the fallen is their influence and their lasting legacy passed on to family, friends, co-workers…. and to all Americans.  And, each of these individuals has a unique life story…

The oldest person was retired Navy Captain John Yamnicky … John served his country as an aviator through two wars, commanding an attack squadron in Korea and flying off carriers in Vietnam.  He was a fearless military test pilot who had survived five crash landings during his twenty-six years of service.  On September 11, John was a passenger on American Airlines flight 77. 

One of the youngest was Bernard Brown II, an 11-year-old and a 5th grader at Leckie Elementary School right nearby in Washington, D.C.  He had been hand-picked by his teacher for a 4-day National Geographic trip to California.  On September 11th, Bernard was beginning his childhood adventure on flight 77.

Retired Army Master Sergeant Max Beilke is listed officially as the last American combat soldier to leave Saigon on March 29th, 1973.  During his 21 years of service, he had survived two wars, Korea and Vietnam.  As an Army civilian, he traveled the country advocating on behalf of active and retired military personnel.  On September 11th, Max was in a meeting in a conference room with Pentagon officials. 

Yeoman 3rd Class Melissa Rose Barnes began her naval career as a corpsman—a medical aide.  In 1997, she left the Navy to pursue new opportunities, but rejoined about nine months later because she missed the military.  On September 11th, Petty Officer Barnes was working at the Pentagon in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.

There are 180 other personal stories like these—and all special.

Following the only other deliberate attack on U.S. soil at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt delivered a speech to the Congress.  At the end of his remarks, he declared:  “With confidence in our armed forces—with the unbounding determination of our people—we will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us God.”

On September 11th, 2001, President Bush rallied an anguished nation with similar conviction.  In the days that followed, our Armed Forces stepped forward … to defend this country … and to defend the ideals … that had come under attack. 

And, just as they have on every occasion in history—the men and women who wear the cloth of our nation courageously and selflessly answered the call—many giving their lives in the defense of our freedom.

Today as we dedicate this Memorial … we also dedicate ourselves to “never forget” what happened here, and we make a solemn pledge … to “never again” let this happen in America.  Freedom for our people will forever remain our constant … and the cause of peace our goal.

God bless the fallen, their families, and all who sacrifice for freedom and liberty … and, all those standing the watch today.  God Bless each of you and may God continue to bless America.