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Remarks by Secretary Panetta and Adm. Mullen at the September 11th Commemoration, The Pentagon, Arlington, Va.

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen
September 11, 2011

            MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen.

            ADM. MIKE MULLEN: Mr. Vice President, Mr. Secretary, distinguished guests and most especially families, friends and loved ones of those killed near this spot on this day back in 2001. Good morning and welcome.

            Let me begin by offering on behalf of the 2.2 million men and women who wear the uniform of the United States Armed Forces by passing my deepest condolences to you for the loss you suffered and the grief you still endure. No music can assuage, no tongue can express, no prayer alone may dampen the yearning that must fire yet inside you. Lives ended in this place. Dreams were shattered. Futures were instantly altered. Hopes were tragically dashed. You come here, we all come here to remember those hopes and to mourn and to honor.

            But the greatest honor we bestow, the finest tribute we pay, lies not in our gathering. It lies in our hearts. It lies in our deeds. It lies in the manner in which and the degree to which we have preserved the very ideals that others tried to kill when they killed innocent men, women, and children.

            I was struck by the words of a young woman who just wrote a letter to her dead father, a firefighter killed at the World Trade Center. “Dear Dad,” she said, “I still feel your presence. You are with me every day. You inspire me to live my life to help others and to be grateful for each moment. I don’t know what the next 10 years will bring, but I do know that I have enough strength, wisdom and support to take on anything.”

            Tara Feinberg remains proud of her father, Alan, and of the sacrifice he made so that others need not. And she has committed herself to proving worthy of that sacrifice. Hers is truly the greatest monument, the most enduring memorial, as it is with all of you.

            You, the families, have shown the rest of us the way, quietly honoring the memory of your loved ones by how you live and what you do. It’s in the children and grandchildren with major league dreams, the college degrees earned, the businesses started, the weddings celebrated, the charity given, and the love and the laughter shared. These are the things the terrorists could not eradicate. They could bring down the walls, but they could not bring down America. They could kill our citizens, but they could not kill our citizenship.

            And in that spirit and with that pride, a whole new generation has been inspired to serve, many of them in uniform. Indeed, 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.

            Two million men and women have deployed to combat since 9/11, volunteers all. Some of them knew a colleague killed here, some of them were but grade-schoolers on that day. All of them have remained dedicated to making sure a day like that never happens again. They’ve done this with great skill and bravery, but they have also done it with the realization learned over time and at great cost that sometimes we defend best our national interests when we help others defend their own. And that sometimes in war it isn’t the enemy lives you take that matter most, but rather the innocent lives you save.

            It’s a lesson you have helped teach us. And when that war takes the lives of our troops, when it snuffs out the futures of so many bright young stars, we again look to your example. We wrap our arms around the families of our fallen the way you have wrapped yours around each other.

            The Scottish poet Thomas Campbell in his poem “Hallowed Ground” tells us that to live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.

            Today we stand on this hallowed ground to honor those who still live on in our hearts. But as we mark the end of this decade of war and remembrance, I hope we will also follow in Tara Feinberg’s footsteps, 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.

            Thank you.

            MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, the secretary of defense, Leon Panetta.

            SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON PANETTA: Mr. Vice President, Mr. Chairman, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, and in particular the families of those that were lost on 9/11. Today Americans mark 10 years since that calm September morning when our country, our people and our way of life came under attack in the worst terrorist attack in the history of the United States of America.

            As we come together this morning at this memorial, we do so knowing that the entire nation joins us in remembering the innocent lives that were so cruelly taken from us at the Pentagon, at the World Trade Center, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

            For those who survived the attack and those who lost loved ones on that terrible day, there are no words to ease the pain that you still feel. At this very moment, on this very spot, it is difficult to believe that 10 years ago this was the scene of incredible devastation, of horrific fire and smoke, of heroic first responders who were struggling to bring victims to safety, searching for survivors, fighting the flames at this spot, at this very moment.

            And though 10 years have passed, the wounds are still present, the emotions still raw. You have always carried the memory of that day with you. And in its aftermath you have shown a strength and a courage that embodies the character of America. In your determination to remember and to honor the victims, to recover from the injuries, to rebuild your lives, the entire nation finds inspiration and resilience and resolve.

            As we recall that day of tragedy and trauma, of bravery and heroism, we remember it as a defining moment for all Americans. We were challenged by al Qaeda and its vicious hatred aimed squarely at our values. They tried to weaken us and instead they made us stronger. In the aftermath we came together and reaffirmed those values, our shared belief in liberty and equality, tolerance and fairness. And 10 years later, we again affirm our commitment to those enduring beliefs.

            To this day and by these memorials to each victim we pledge to never forget the enemy that made this happen, why we fight them, and why we will never stop fighting them to make sure that what happened here, and in New York City, and in that field in Pennsylvania never happens again. The strength of our democracy has always rested on the willingness of those who believe in its values and in their will to serve to give something back to this country, to fight and to sacrifice; above all, to do that in times of crisis.

            September 11th was such a time. And in the wake of the attacks, a generation of Americans stepped forward to serve in uniform, determined to confront our enemies and respond to them swiftly and justly. And for 10 years they have carried that burden of protecting America, relentlessly pursuing those who would do us harm, who would threaten our homeland. Because of their sacrifices, we are a safer and stronger nation today and the principal terrorist behind these attacks has been brought to justice. We will never forget the human cost paid by this generation, the more than 6,200 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines lost in the line of duty. Like those taken from us on 9/11, we will always remember that they paid the ultimate sacrifice for America.

            Today we think of their families who have suffered tragedy and heartbreak, but have showed extraordinary resilience and strength. We think of the thousands of veterans who carry the seen and unseen wounds of war, carry those wounds every day with them. And we grieve for those losses.

            But out of the darkness of this grief, out of the darkness of this sorrow has come the light of inspiration to serve America, to fight our enemies, to protect the safety and freedom of the American people and to make our country stronger and better for future generations of Americans.

            At this spot, at this moment, 10 years later, this is our solemn prayer and our solemn pledge to ourselves, to our children, to our nation, and to our world.

            As we commemorate this anniversary here today, we are obviously honored by the presence of many of our nation’s leaders, but in particular the vice president of the United States. It is my great pleasure to now introduce a leader, a dedicate public servant, and my dear friend, Joe Biden. 

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