Good afternoon and thank you, Mike, for that introduction. Leaders of the Department, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for taking time out of your day to come together and remember the tragic morning of September 11th, 2001. Even as we mark 11 years since that horrible day, we know it will be forever ingrained in our souls as members of the Pentagon family — and as Americans.
We pay tribute this afternoon to the 184 innocent people who lost their lives here that morning. Fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, service members, civilians, they had done nothing to deserve such a cruel fate. We remember them, and we think of their families who have suffered through grief and through heartbreak.
We also honor the courageous efforts of the first responders, the rescue workers, and countless civilian and military Pentagon employees whose efforts to save the wounded prevented further loss of life. Their actions that day reflect the very spirit of this great country of ours, and the spirit of service that drives the United States of America.
We remember men and women like the Marine major who joined others in rushing to the most heavily damaged areas. They struggled for air amidst thick black smoke as they pulled out the wounded who were trapped under mounds of debris. When asked by a reporter for his name, this Marine said he wanted to remain anonymous. He clawed through the rubble, he was motivated not by fame, not by headlines, but motivated and driven by the unbreakable commitment to “leave no one behind,” and save as many lives as he could.
We also pay tribute to the resilience displayed by the survivors. Thousands reported for duty the next morning, while portions of this building were still burning. Their determination showed our enemy that we would not be intimidated, that we would get right back up, and that we would be even stronger than before. Our enemies thought that they could weaken us that morning. But instead they saw this country for what it is and what it’s all about. We saw Americans risking their lives to help each other. We saw Americans rolling up their sleeves, as we always do, to rebuild what was destroyed. We saw the Pentagon community rededicate itself to its vital mission of protecting this country. This is the enduring legacy of 9/11.
Today, all of you build on that great legacy. The strength of our democracy has always rested on the willingness of those who believe in its values to give something back to this great country; and when faced by crisis, to get up and respond to duty. September 11th was such a time.
Today we recognize the millions of Americans who stepped forward to answer that call and to serve in uniform. They are the latest in a proud lineage of Americans who raised their right hands in a time of need and volunteered to serve this country. They have carried the burden of protecting America for 11 years, relentlessly pursuing those who would do us harm. They are truly the “next greatest generation.”
They fought and bled in places like Ramadi and Sadr City. And they continue fighting to keep us safe in remote outposts across Afghanistan.
Because of their sacrifices, because there are those who were willing to fight and die for this country, we are a safer and stronger nation today than on 9/11, and the principal terrorist behind these attacks has been brought to justice.
These men and women who serve this country, and all of you who support them back home, are delivering a resounding message to our enemies: no one attacks America and gets away with it. We will do what is necessary to protect our country, and to give our children a better and more secure life.
That goal, that dream, is what unites us as men and women of this Department, and as Americans. That dream is what’s driving the public service that all of you perform.
Like the Marine major digging through that rubble that day 11 years ago, much of this work gets done quietly, without much recognition, without a great deal of fanfare, but with the solemn pledge of duty to protect this country. Never doubt its importance to the troops on the front lines who depend on you, or to Americans across this country whose security depends on the work of this Department.
It is easy to sometimes get so absorbed in the daily grind of day-to-day activities and day-to-day headlines that we lose sight of the bigger picture. That too is why we pause here this afternoon. Today we stop to recall the insecurity and vulnerability all of us felt as the sun set on that terrible day eleven years ago. It is a painful memory, but a necessary one, as it reminds all of us why we must never get complacent, why we must never doubt the importance of the work we do here, and why we can never fail, every day, to give it our all.
So let me thank you for all that you from the bottom of my heart, for all that you do to keep this country of ours safe and secure, and for dedicating yourselves to this mission. That dedication, that commitment, is the legacy of 9/11, and one that we must always carry into the future.
God bless all of those who lost their lives on September 11th, and those who have given their lives in service to this country.
God bless all of you, and God bless America.