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Address to the Men and Women of Whiteman Air Force Base
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, No location specified, Friday, October 19, 2001

Thank you, General Przybyslawski. And, even though I am from Chicago, I hope you don’t mind if I join the men and women here at Whiteman, and call you General "P."

Ladies and Gentlemen—men and women of the 509th Bomber Wing—it is a pleasure to be here today, and to be able to thank you personally for your dedication and for your service to our country.

Our people and way of life have come under an unprecedented attack by a new and dangerous enemy. Americans are grateful—and proud—to know that brave men and women stand ready to defend their freedom—when it has been so brutally and violently challenged. On behalf of the President, and a grateful people, I thank you for all you do—and do so well.

As you know, this base was named for one of the first American airmen killed in combat during World War II—Lt. George A. Whiteman. Lt. Whiteman’s P-40 fighter—named the "Lucky Me"—was shot down on Dec. 7, 1941 as he attempted to take off to defend Pearl Harbor. It is fitting that from this base which bears his name, the U.S. is launching its response to the first strike on American territory since that attack on Pearl Harbor almost sixty years ago.

We look back at the struggle of World War II, and the sacrifice of so many brave Americans like Lt. Whiteman, and we thank God for those who risked, and those who gave their lives, so that their fellow countrymen can live in freedom. We call them the Greatest Generation—and they are. But each generation of Americans has seen challenges to our freedom—and has met the challenge of their times.

Your generation now faces just such a challenge. The terrorists who attacked our country on September 11th did more than blow up our buildings or murder thousands of our people—they declared war on our nation and our way of life.

They attacked us because of who we are—Americans—free men and women, proud of our country and proud of our country’s cause—the cause of human freedom. Their objective was to try to frighten and intimidate us into altering the way we live. They want us to become so terrified that we can no longer walk out of our homes, knowing we are safe in our places of work and that our children will come home safely from school. They want us to respond by curtailing our freedoms—to withdraw—terrorized. We will not do so.

We have two choices: Either we change the way we live, or we must change the way they live. We choose the latter. And you are the ones who will help achieve that goal.

Your mission is difficult and it is dangerous. Our enemies live in caves and hide in shadows. Finding them and rooting them out is no simple task. It will take patience, time and steadiness of purpose.

You accomplish an amazing feat each time a B-2 bomber lifts off from the plains of Missouri, and crosses oceans and continents, undetected, to deliver justice from the skies above Afghanistan.

The terrorists thought they could strike fear in the American heartland. Through you, the American heartland strikes back. And through your efforts, we will create the conditions necessary for victory.

The terrorists who visited this violence on America have made a terrible mistake—the have awakened our nation to a new kind of evil. And in causing this awakening, they have assured their own destruction. Out of this act of terror—and the awakening it brings—here and across the globe—will surely come a victory over terrorism.

What do we mean by victory? Victory means liquidating the terrorist networks and putting them out of business. Victory means crippling the ability of terrorist organizations, and the states that sponsor them, to coerce our nation, intimidate our people and disrupt our way of life. Victory means ensuring that Americans can continue to live as a free people.

Each of you here at Whiteman works long hours, under difficult circumstances. You do this because you love your country. Know that your country knows this—and is grateful for it. Grateful not only to you, but also to your families. Enduring periods of worry and separation to support you in your work, they also sacrifice for their country.

We are proud of them. And we are proud of you. We have every confidence in your talent and dedication, and ability to get the job done. I am delighted to be here to personally thank you for what you do for all of us. God bless you all.