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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Remarks at the September 11th Observance Ceremony (As Delivered)

Mr. Secretary, distinguished guests, thank you for participating in this morning’s ceremony. But most importantly, I want to thank the people we’re here for today: the survivors of the murderous attack on this building and the families of the fallen. Thank you all for participating and we are all deeply humbled to be standing here on this sacred ground.

Twenty years ago today began as a typical morning for Pentagon employees. Those in uniform and their civilian colleagues settled into the rhythms and routines of a normal Tuesday morning with a near cloudless sky – temperatures in the low 60s and it promised to be a beautiful day. 

The passengers and crew of American Airlines Flight 77 were a little over an hour into their flight from Dulles to LA. Fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters and brothers and sisters.

All that changed at 9:37 a.m. as the innocent were caught in the crossfire of terror. The ideology of hatred unfolded on this very ground. In seconds, scores of lives were lost. 184 men, women, and children were slaughtered in the violent impact and fiery blast: 59 passengers and crew and 125 of our Pentagon colleagues. And the innocent ranged in age from 3 to 71 years old.

Those who perished here were among the 2,977 killed on that day here, in New York, and in Pennsylvania. Not for what they believe and what they represented. Not for anything they did but rather for who they were.

The people we lost that day are not just names or numbers. We remember them today for not only who they were but for what they could have become. They were irreplaceable to their families, instrumental in their jobs, woven into the fabric of their community, full of life and potential.

Lives cut short – pain that can never be properly described in words. Suffering that will never fully heal. And no words that I nor anyone else will ever say can fill the gaping hole.

But we the living, we have a solemn duty to honor their memory, their legacy. To honor and remember them – not just today but every day.

The horrific acts of terrorism on that day were meant to disrupt our way of life and destroy the idea that is America.

That idea is simple, yet incredibly powerful. The idea that terrorists hate and fear. The idea that all of us, men and women, black and white, Asian and Indian, no matter the color of our skin; no matter if we are Catholic, or Protestant, or Muslim, or Jew, or if you choose not to believe at all. The idea that each and every one of us is created free and equal. 

The idea that we will rise or fall based on our merit. The idea of a free press, free speech, due process of law, the right to vote or peacefully assemble and protest for or against this cause or that. The idea of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. All of that is what our fallen believed in and what they embodied.  

All of the values and principles embedded in our Constitution and made real in our daily lives were paid for with the blood of the fallen on this place at 9:37 on September 11th, 2001.

Those ideas were and still are hated by our enemies; the Fascists, the Nazis, the Communists, Al-Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban, authoritarians, dictators, and tyrants of all kinds. They hate those ideas and they hate those values. And on 9/11, they tried to destroy us. They tried to divide us, they tried ultimately in vain to terrify us.

But their murderous intent was never realized. Instead of sowing fear and division, we gathered in New York and Pennsylvania and right here at the Pentagon. And we came together as a Nation with acts of heroism, unity and perseverance, many conducted by you in the audience today.

While we grieve for our fallen, we celebrate the life they led. Their legacy lives on in the idea that is America – and no terrorists anywhere on Earth can ever destroy that idea.

Since that dark day 20 years ago, the men and women of the United States military have fought tirelessly to defeat terrorists in Afghanistan and around the world. Both at home and abroad, their talent, their efforts, their courage, and their personal valor has carried this fight day and night.

We did not fear what was ahead of us because we loved what was behind us. 800,000 of us in uniform served in Afghanistan over the last 20 years. Tens of thousands more have served elsewhere in the collective fight against terrorism. And thousands more stand watch today all around the world.

2,461 of us gave the last full measure of devotion including 13 just two weeks ago, while 20,698 of us were wounded, and untold thousands of others suffer with the invisible wounds of war as we close this terrible chapter in our Nation's history.

For two consecutive decades, our men and women in uniform along with our brothers and sisters in the intelligence and law enforcement agencies protected our Nation from terrorist attack.

For those of us in uniform, for our families who have suffered and sacrificed along our side, for those who have supported us, these have been incredibly emotional, exhausting, and trying years.  

 And we are all now conflicted with feelings of pain and anger, sorrow and sadness, combined with pride and resilience. But one thing I am certain of, for any Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine, for every CIA officer, FBI officer, for every cop and fireman, and their family: you did your duty, your service mattered, and your sacrifice was not in vain.

So let us resolve, let us resolve here yet again today, to never forget. To never forget those who were murdered by terrorists. Never forget those who rushed to save lives and gave theirs in exchange. Never forget the sons and daughters, the brothers and sisters, and the mothers and fathers, who gave their tomorrows for our todays. Honor them. Honor them today and forever. Honor the cause they served. Honor their commitment to this experiment in liberty that we call the United States of America.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is now my pleasure and deep honor to introduce the Secretary of Defense of the United States of America, the Honorable Lloyd J. Austin.