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Wreath Laying Ceremony
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Arlington National Cemetery, Sunday, September 11, 2005

Chaplain May; families and friends of those we are here to honor today; General Dick Myers -- thank you so much for your superb service to our country for so many years; Senator Stevens and Senator Allen; members of the cabinet.

We gather here, in this place of remembrance, to reflect on a day when terrorists -- extremists -- struck at the heart of a free people.  A day when Americans lost mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues.

They came from different cultures, different places and different backgrounds.

But what united them all was that they had hopes and dreams that were their own, and they had the right and the opportunity to pursue them.

We struggle to find the words to say to those who have lost loved ones in this war.  What one says to another who suffers a heart-wrenching loss can never seem enough.  I wish we could say -- as with many anniversaries -- that this is a time for peaceful remembrance; that we were gathering today to commemorate a danger that had long since past; or that the attacks of four years ago marked the ending -- not one of the early shots in a protracted and difficult conflict.

But we cannot.

The enemy, though weakened and continuously under assault pressure, continues to plot attacks.  And the danger they pose to the free world is real and present.

Somewhere among those gathered here are the children who lost a mother, or lost a father, in those attacks.  And soon they'll reach adulthood.

And what might they ask of us?

They will, likely, want to know why this terrible thing happened.  That's so difficult to explain.  It is hard for free people to comprehend the mix of extremism and hatred that leads terrorists to murder innocent men, women, and children.

But perhaps we can tell them this: throughout human history there have been those who seek power through fear and mass murder. But eventually all of them -- everyone -- has fallen.  They have fallen under the weight of their fanaticism and the courage and the determination of free people. 

They might also ask: what did America do to prevail?  To keep other children from knowing a dark day when they are told their mothers or fathers were killed in terrorist attacks? 

Let us hope that what we tell them will be the truth: that we fought fanaticism and terrorism on every front.  That we did not cower, we did not compromise or wait in fear hoping they would not strike again.  That we did everything that was required -- everything that was possible -- no matter how difficult -- and no matter how long.

And that Americans displayed the resolute courage that has defined our country through the generations.

The courage:

  • That led the first citizen soldiers to defend their homes at Lexington and Concord;
  • That turned companies of strangers into bands of brothers at Normandy and Iwo Jima; and the courage
  • That pressured the Iron Curtain to collapse and the Berlin Wall to crumble.

And you might remind them of a moment in our nation’s early history.

In the dark days of our Revolution, George Washington’s army had been decimated in New York.  A British Admiral told three of our Founding Fathers that the revolutionaries could have peace if only they would reject the Declaration of Independence and give up their rebellion.  To some it might have seemed a tempting offer.  Prospects for victory at that moment seemed bleak.  But those American patriots refused.  Their army rallied.  And our country’s independence was secured.

That date was September 11th 1776.  As it happens, the place where those patriots refused to surrender is just minutes from the site of the World Trade Center.

Today, a more vicious adversary seeks our surrender.  And once again, we will refuse.  And once again, our forces have rallied.

Today, history is being written by the valiant men and women of America’s armed forces, and by determined citizens who will do all they can to keep to win this test of wills -- for that's what it is to keep our children from experiencing the heartbreak and terror of September 11.

So today let us recommit ourselves to continuing history’s great and necessary task.  And to continuing to pursue these enemies until they can pose no threat to free people.

America did not wish to send soldiers abroad, but we sent them.  We did not ask for violence, but we've answered it.  We did not begin this war on terror, but we will win it.

May God bless all of the families and the friends of those who lost their loved ones on September 11th and in the ensuing struggle.  You are in our thoughts and prayers.  May God bless the United States of America.