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Remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at the Pentagon Ceremony to Honor the Fallen of 9/11 (As Delivered)

Thank you, General Milley. 

Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for being here.

It is indeed an honor to be joined by family members of the fallen, survivors, and first responders.  

To those whose loved ones were so cruelly taken from them on September 11, 2001: I offer my deepest condolences and so does the entire Department of Defense. 

We know that these moments of tribute are not easy. And we know the resilience that you have shown over these long years. It gives us all strength. So thank you.

Today, we stand together to remember a day of horror and loss—a day when al-Qaeda terrorists murdered 2,977 innocent souls, including 184 people here at the Pentagon.

But we also remember a day of monumental courage and compassion. A day when people responded to evil and fanaticism with goodness and generosity. A day that called forth the heroism that dwells in the hearts of Americans across this land. 

Many of those acts of bravery happened right here where we're standing.

Our colleagues at the Pentagon risked their own safety to rescue their teammates. They moved rubble with their bare hands. They cleaned wounds with bottled water. They used damp T-shirts as face masks to shield against the smoke—so that they could keep on helping just a little longer.

One woman was crawling across the second floor, trying to escape, when she came across a co-worker who had been in the same conference room when the plane hit. And the co-worker didn't think that she could keep going. 

"Just get on my back," the woman said. "I'll carry you." 

And she did—and she got them both to safety.

"Just get on my back. I'll carry you."
That is the spirit of the people of this building—and all those who responded at the scene. In the face of cruelty, they showed compassion, courage, and common purpose. 

In the days and months after the attack, ordinary Americans volunteered in an extraordinary way to help however they could—including millions who raised their hands to serve in the U.S. military.

So today, I want to again thank our men and women in uniform, as well as the families who make their service possible. Your sacrifice has ensured that America always stands ready to defend our values, our freedoms, and our citizens. 

Just over one year ago, America's war in Afghanistan came to an end. Yet we continue our relentless focus on combating terrorist threats to our nation. And earlier this summer, the United States delivered justice to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda. 

So make no mistake. America's determination to keep our country safe will never waver. And neither will America's determination to bring justice to those who attack our citizens. 

Surrounding us today are 184 steel benches, each bearing the name of a person murdered in the attack on the Pentagon. And every night, 184 lights come on, lighting up each bench—just as the people who they honor lit up the lives of those who loved them.

And those lights remind us that even on our darkest days, the American spirit still shines. It shines through the bravery of our first responders. It shines through the strength of the heartbroken. And it shines through the valor of our troops. And it shines through the sacrifice of all those who step up to defend the United States.

So today, let us renew our dedication to facing the tests of tomorrow as our heroes did—with compassion for one another, with love for our great republic, and with devotion to our democracy.

We will always remember. We will always stand guard over this democracy. And we will always seek to be worthy of those who we lost.

As President Biden has said, and I quote, "From the deepest depths of our worst crises, we've always risen to our higher heights."

Ladies and gentlemen, our president deeply cares about the men and women of the United States military. And our president believes deeply in America's strength, in the democratic values that guide us in times of trial, and in the resilience of the American spirit even at moments of great challenge. 

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to introduce the President of the United States.