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Secretary of Defense Remarks in Commemoration of Those Lost 20 Years Ago on 9/11 (As Delivered)

Thank you. It is an honor to be here with you—and especially with the families and loved ones of those taken from us 20 years ago, and with the first responders who raced to help, and with our brothers and sisters in arms whose lives were changed forever on that day of fire.

On behalf of the Department of Defense, let me renew our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of all those lost on 9/11—including the 184 souls taken from us in the attack on the Pentagon, in the building and on Flight 77.

We know that you carry pain every day. We know that you bear your losses not just at times of ceremony, but also in ordinary moments of absence—in quiet minutes that can seem to stretch on for hours.

All of us are here because we remember. And I hope knowing that is at least some measure of comfort.

Just as we once worked alongside so many of them, we now mourn alongside all of you.

Today of all days, we gather their memory close.

My thoughts turn to Lieutenant General Tim Maude, an outstanding soldier and leader. He was killed on 9/11 while serving as the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel. I still wish that we could turn to him for counsel, and I still remember his love for his soldiers, his Army, and his country. 

We know that the memories can be hard to bear. And we know that the sorrow doesn’t end. But over the years, we hope that the good memories come to us more often, and more easily.   

And today, we remember not just who our fallen teammates were, but we remember the mission that they shared.

And we recall their common commitment to defend our republic—and to squarely face new dangers.

As many of you know, the construction of the Pentagon began on another September 11th, back in 1941. As war raged overseas, workers with steam shovels began digging that morning into the Virginia clay.

Historians say that it was a “perfect late-summer day,” with “a crystal-clear blue sky and a hint of fall in the air.”

On that September 11th night, President Franklin Roosevelt gave a fireside chat about the growing threat of Nazi aggression. America’s attention was turned inward and focused on the Depression. But the president was sure that his fellow citizens—whom he called “hard-headed” and “far-sighted”—would meet the challenge of fascism.

He said, “The American people have faced other grave crises in their history, with American courage, with American resolution. They will do no less today.”

And the president added that his fellow citizens knew that times of testing “call for clear heads and fearless hearts.”

Clear heads and fearless hearts.

That’s what our times demand again.

And they demand that we remember that same September day 60 years later, and the ideals that brought our teammates to work on September 11th, 2001.

Now, almost a quarter of the citizens who we defend today were born after 9/11. That includes thousands of our outstanding young service members.

Many of the 13 brave men and women who, just days ago, gave their lives to save others in Afghanistan were babies back in 2001.

And as Secretary of Defense, and a veteran of the Afghan war, let me underscore again how much we owe to all those who fought—and all those who fell—while serving our country in Afghanistan.

As the years march on, we must ensure that all our fellow Americans know and understand what happened here on 9/11, and in Manhattan, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

It is our responsibility to remember. And it is our duty to defend democracy.

We cannot know what the next 20 years will bring. We cannot know what new dangers they will carry. We cannot foresee what Churchill once called “the originality of malice.”

But we do know that America will always lead.

And we do know the only compass that can guide us through the storms ahead. It is our core values and the principles enshrined in our Constitution.

Liberty. Rights. The rule of law.

And a fierce commitment to a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

It’s our job to defend the great experiment that is America. To protect this exceptional republic, body and soul—and to defend the American people and our democracy.

Even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard.

And ladies and gentlemen, we must be tireless guardians of our ideals, as well as our security.

Because we cannot have one without the other.

Let me thank again the families and loved ones and the survivors for all you that have given, and for the inspiration that you provide.

The hallways that we tread were the ones that so many of them walked.

It will always be our duty to fulfill their missions, to live up to their goodness, and to stand guard over this democracy.

We still work here. We still remember here. And we still uphold our values here.

With clear heads and fearless hearts.

Thank you, and may God protect the United States of America.