Mullen Speaks of Loss, Resilience During Pentagon Remembrance
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 11, 2011 Families, friends, co-workers and survivors gathered at the Pentagon today to remember the 184 men, women and children killed when terrorists flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the building a decade ago.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Vice President Joe Biden watch the laying of memorial wreaths at the Pentagon 9/11 observance ceremony honoring the 184 victims killed when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon during a terrorist attack 10 years ago. DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The ceremony, held next to the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial, acknowledged loss, but also emphasized resilience.
“They could kill our citizens, but they could not kill our citizenship,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said during the ceremony. “In that spirit and with that pride, a whole new generation has been inspired to serve, many of them in uniform.”
A quick look around the audience showed the effect of that day on America’s military. Nearly all soldiers in the crowd had combat patches showing service in Iraq or Afghanistan with the 3rd Infantry Division, the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions or the 10th Mountain Division. Bronze Stars hung on the dress uniforms of Marines in the crowd, and Navy and Air Force personnel wore ribbons signifying their roles in the fight.
The Pentagon was one of the terrorists’ targets on Sept. 11, 2001. The World Trade Center in New York was another. Either the Capitol or the White House was a likely third target, but the passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93 overpowered the terrorists who had hijacked the plane, and it crashed in an uninhabited field outside Shanksville, Pa.
At the Pentagon, the plane that terrorists turned into a missile blew a 75-foot gap in the building and penetrated to the B Ring. Fire and smoke poured from the building that day, and Pentagon workers – military and civilian – rushed to help their co-workers and get them to safety.
And planning began.
“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,” Mullen said. “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 offered the condolences of all service members to the families of those killed that day. “Lives ended in this place. Dreams were shattered. Futures were instantly altered. Hopes were tragically dashed,” he said.
“We all come here to remember those hopes, to mourn and to honor,” he continued. “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 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.”
The families have been the best example of resilience, the chairman said. They have quietly honored the memories of their loved ones by striving to lead lives of purpose.
“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,” Mullen said. “These are the things the terrorists could not eradicate. They could bring down the walls, but they could not bring down America.”
The events of 9/11 have shaped America and given a new generation a mission, Mullen said. More than 2 million Americans have deployed to combat since 9/11, volunteers all. Some knew people killed in the Pentagon. Others were in grade school watching in shock as the Pentagon burned and the World Trade Center towers fell. “All of them have remained dedicated to making sure a day like that never happens again,” he said.
Service members have accepted the mission and performed admirably, Mullen said. They have also, at great cost, learned lessons. “Sometimes, we defend best our national interests when we help others defend their own,” he said. “And sometimes in war it isn’t the enemy lives you take that matters most, but rather, the innocent lives you save.”
More than 4,500 service members have been killed in Iraq, and more than 1,500 in Afghanistan. “When that war takes the lives of our troops – when it snuffs out the future of so many bright young stars – we again look to your example,” the chairman told the families. “We have wrapped our arms around the families of our fallen the way you have wrapped your arms around each other.”