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A Concert to Honor (Kennedy Center)

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Kennedy Center, Washington, DC, Friday, September 09, 2011

Good evening. It's a very real honor for me to be here with all of you for this event marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11. I want to thank the organizers for putting this together -- such a moving concert. I'd also like to thank the Kennedy Center for being so gracious and accommodating in hosting this event tonight on such short notice.

Ten years ago, just days after the horrific attacks of September 11th, leaders from all political, religious and cultural backgrounds gathered in Washington at the National Cathedral. As the nation stood traumatized, we came together to mourn the dead, begin the healing, and to remember those values -- liberty, equality, tolerance, and fairness -- that we all hold dear, that make America a great nation that it is.

We also came together to show our determination, to show our national resolve, to bring the enemy responsible to justice. So it is fitting that we gather again under the leadership of the National Cathedral on this 10th anniversary of 9/11 to remember, to continue to heal, and to pledge anew that we will continue to show the world the enduring strength of the American character.

Today we not only commemorate those nearly 3,000 innocent lives perished on September 11, 2001, but we also honor those that stepped forward in the wake of those attacks, the generation that answered the nation's call to serve at a time of war. The new generation that has volunteered to shoulder the burden of protecting this country, a young generation fighting for a better life, a better America, and a better world. Members of that generation are with us here tonight. Later we will hear from a great military leader who so ably led them in battle, David Petraeus.

We honor this generation, what they do, because it goes to the heart and soul of what a strong democracy is all about: people, citizens who are willing to roll up their sleeves and serve their country. It was true for our forefathers. It was true for our pioneers. It was true for the immigrants who had come to this country. And it is true for all of us today.

I'm the son of Italian immigrants, who, like millions of others, came to this country with few skills, no money in their pockets, hardly any English speaking abilities. But they understood the dream of America. And I would ask my father, why did you travel those thousands of miles to come to a strange country? I will never forget his reply, "Because your mother and I believed that we could give our children a better life. That is the American dream."

And it is the fundamental bond that we all share -- that we will make whatever sacrifice is necessary to give our children that better life, quality education, the chance to earn a decent living, the chance to enjoy a secure and peaceful world. That willingness to sacrifice on behalf of our children and the future is woven into the very fabric of our republic. Because our forefathers understood that the strength of this great nation did not reside in a king, not in a parliament, not in a court. Our great strength as a democracy resides in our people, people who are willing to sacrifice for the future. Across our nation's history, we have been blessed with men and women willing to make that sacrifice, willing to wear the uniform of this country, to defend this country, to put their lives on the line in order to protect our freedoms, our liberties, our values -- what America is all about.

Since 9/11, a new generation of Americans joined the ranks by the millions, knowing full well that they would likely be sent into battle, that they would have to put their lives on the line. For 10 long years they have fought, they have died in places such as Fallujah, Sadr City in Iraq, remote outposts of Afghanistan's Helmand and Korengal Valleys. On Iraq's city streets, in Afghanistan's mountains, this generation has spilled its blood so that their fellow citizens and future generations would have that better and safer life.

I've visited our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, looked into the eyes of those men and women who serve our country on the frontlines. So many of them are motivated to do so by the events of September 11, 2001. In their eyes, I saw a fierce determination to carry out their mission of protecting America. It was that determination that brought us our greatest victory against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks with the operation that brought Osama bin Laden to justice.

On this 10th anniversary of 9/11, our thoughts turn to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 6,200 of America's finest sons and daughters who have given the last full measure of devotion. We pay tribute to the thousands of wounded warriors who have returned home bearing the scars of war, but whose spirit remains strong and burns bright.

And we recognize the military families, who provide so much support, and who sacrifice so much. We can honor America's service members, their families, their sacrifices by remembering that protecting the things that we hold dear is the work of all Americans. It is the duty of the American people to share in that sacrifice. It is incumbent on all of us to play our part. We must also reach out to those who shoulder the burden of security, and their families, to make sure that they are given a place of honor and respect in our communities.

Out of the darkness of that tragic day of 9/11, this column of bright light of inspiration, renewal and resilience -- inspiration that brought the generation of young men and women to service, willing to commend their lives on behalf of our security and the future of this country. Their sacrifice will ensure that the American dream of my parents, the American dream of giving our children a better life, is achieved. But more importantly, their sacrifice will ensure that we always have a government of, by and for all people. Because of their sacrifice, the torch of freedom burns brightly, now and forever.

May God bless our men and women in uniform, and may God bless this great nation.

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