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September 11th Commemoration

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, The Pentagon, Sunday, September 11, 2011

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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