Remarks by Secretary Panetta at the Pentagon 9/11 Commemoration for Pentagon Personnel
SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: Thank you very much, Sandy. Good afternoon. And I can't tell you what a great privilege it is to have the opportunity to participate in marking this date and in paying tribute to this great flag that we have before us.
And I appreciate all of you coming out and being able to stand in the rain. We had hoped that the sun would come out by now. God knows we sure deserve it after these last few days. As an intelligence officer, I've learned never to rely on the weatherman for any kind of intelligence in this town. So -- but I thank you for your presence; the warmth of your presence is enough right now.
This weekend, as we all know, the entire nation comes together to remember what happened on that tragic day when the worst act of terrorism was made against the United States and nearly 3,000 lives -- innocent lives -- were lost in New York, in that field in Pennsylvania, and here at the Pentagon. September 11, 2001 will forever be a defining moment for all Americans.
It's a day when we were attacked by a vicious hatred aimed squarely at the values that we stand for as a nation. They wanted to weaken us, but instead they strengthened America. They unified us in the face of that attack. In the decade since we have answered the enemy by showing our American character, by fighting back, by acting justly, decisively, relentlessly against threats to our citizens, to our nation and to our freedom.
For the Pentagon family, the events of that morning will never be forgotten. Today we come together as a family, as a community to take some time out of our working day just to reaffirm that commitment to remember our fallen friends and our fallen colleagues. In gathering here, we pay tribute to those we lost. We recall the acts of heroism and courage that saved lives that day, and we honor the brave men and women of our military who have paid the ultimate price to protect our country and our freedom during this decade of war.
We also have the opportunity, as part of this ceremony, to contribute to the restoration of this national 9/11 flag, which will forever stand as a monument to the strength of the American people.
Though the gaping hole in this building has long been repaired, there remains a gaping hole in our hearts. We still feel deeply the loss of 184 people who perished here that morning: 59 men, women, children, aboard Flight 77; and 125 workers here at the Pentagon from the Army, the DIA, the Navy and the OSD. Those men and women represent the full spectrum of our community: civil servants, contractors, military personnel. They were innocent men and women who shared a common dedication to serving our nation, and who lost their lives because of that dedication.
We will always grieve -- always grieve -- over those taken from us so violently. But we do so with the knowledge that, had it not been for the heroic actions of many that day here at the Pentagon, the human toll would have been far worse.
I had a chance this morning to attend a breakfast of those first responders who came here to the Pentagon that terrible morning. There will never be a full accounting of the acts of personal courage and heroism that took place.
But out of that tragedy came inspiration: men and women who dragged colleagues to safety from the horrible fire that consumed that part of this building, men and women who dragged injured colleagues to safety, individuals who ran towards the fire -- not away from it, but towards the fire in an effort to try to help their colleagues and their friends, and those who volunteered to provide medical assistance to the injured and comfort to the survivors.
Also deserving of our thanks, our appreciation, our recognition are those who made sure that the Pentagon kept functioning that day despite the shock and the damage of this unprecedented attack: The staff of the National Military Command, working at their center, continued to operate, continued to work closely without missing a step, ensuring that we had the continued ability of our military to respond to the threats that were out there and to these attacks; the skill and ingenuity of the building's engineering and maintenance staffs that kept crucial parts of our infrastructure functioning and most of the building open for business the morning of September 12, even as firefighters continued to battle the blaze and conduct a search-and-rescue operation.
It should surprise no one that the men and women of the Department of Defense were more than equal to the task they faced that day and in the weeks, and months and years since. On September 11, this building was transformed, transformed into a battlefield. But we drew resolve from that tragedy and the determination to take the battle to our enemies.
Ten years later, we are a stronger nation. And at the core of that strength is that generation of Americans who have stepped forward to serve in uniform, men and women who were determined to fight for the safety and for the freedom of the American people. They have put their lives on the line. And more than 6,200 have paid the ultimate price to defend this country.
Because of their sacrifices, because of their relentless pressure that they brought to bear against our enemies, the American people are safer. And, just as importantly, the terrorist who provoked that horrible attack on 9/11 has met his just end.
One of my proudest moments -- one of my proudest moments in 40 years of having been in this town in various capacities -- one of my proudest moments was as CIA director being able to work on the operation with our -- some of our finest intelligence officers working with some of our finest special forces teams to be able to make a very clear point -- to our country and to the world -- that nobody -- nobody -- attacks this country and gets away with it.
We dealt al-Qaida a major blow with the operation that took down bin Laden. But please make no mistake -- make no mistake. Violent extremism remains a deadly threat. We are dealing with their threats as we speak. Terrorists are determined to attack this country.
We must never stop being vigilant. We must never stop keeping the pressure on. We must never stop fighting to protect the safety of this country. We must never stop until we have been able to ensure that terrorists have no place to hide and that they no longer represent a threat to this country.
As we mark this 10th anniversary of 9/11, we, the men and women of the Department of Defense, renew our pledge -- a pledge that was made the day of that attack and a pledge that we have continued over the last 10 years, and today we renew that pledge -- that we will always keep -- always keep in our hearts the sacrifices of those who gave their lives for this country on 9/11 and during a decade of war. They did not die in vain. In fact, we remember their sacrifice as we continue the fight to make sure that this country is protected, to make sure that this country is kept safe, and most importantly, to fulfill the American dream of giving our children a safer and better life for the future.
Thank you all for your commitment to this fight. Thank you all for your dedication. Thank you all for your patriotism and for the work that you do every day to protect the United States of America.
God bless you, and God bless this country.