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Remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at the Pentagon Ceremony to Honor the Fallen of September 11, 2001 (As Delivered)

Thank you, General Milley.

Good morning, everyone.

I am absolutely honored to be here with all of you on this day of remembrance and resolve.

I'm especially moved to be here with family members of those who we lost, with survivors of the attacks, and with the first responders who raced to save innocent lives.

To the families and the loved ones of the 184 people who lost their lives on 9/11 here at the Pentagon and on Flight 77: let me extend my deepest condolences, on behalf of the Department of Defense.

I know that being here is hard. I know that it aches to remember this milestone year after year. And I know that nothing can make it right.

And as the years go by, it may feel that the world is moving on, or even forgetting what happened here on September 11th, 2001.

But please know this: The men and women of the Department of Defense will always remember.

We will always honor the memory of our fallen teammates.

We will always strive to be worthy of the memory of those we lost.

September 11th reminds us that the American spirit still shines in times of testing. After the attacks, amid the horror and the grief, many Americans felt a deeper sense of duty to their communities and to their country. 

And all around the country, with hearts breaking for the slain and the suffering, Americans looked within themselves and felt called to give back.

In those terrible first hours and days, people rushed to give blood, to volunteer in hospitals, or to hand out food and water to exhausted first responders. 

And here at the Pentagon, an outstanding group of employees and volunteers got a family-assistance center up and running in less than a day. Over the next month, over 2,500 people volunteered there. And so they worked long hours to serve hot meals, and provide counseling, and offer medical care, and help families through their grief.

You know, not every act of service was monumental. We remember a hug for a soldier on the streets of Manhattan, or a child's handwritten thank-you card for a firefighter.

But every act of grace changed us, drawing out a strength and a sense of common purpose that became part of the story of that day—and part of the story of our country.

As the months and years went by, many Americans chose to help those in need or to fortify our security in a newly uncertain world.

September 11th made America a nation at war. And hundreds of thousands stepped up to serve our country in uniform. 

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have come to a close. But we remain relentlessly focused on combating terrorist threats to America.

And I want to thank all of my fellow veterans who served in combat during the two hard decades of war after 9/11—as well as their families—for all that they gave.

The courage and the compassion that we witnessed after September 11th were even more extraordinary when they came from Americans who lost loved ones.

I'm thinking today of Khang Nguyen, who was born in South Vietnam in a time of chaos. He finally made it to America with his family and eventually graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in electrical engineering. And on 9/11, he was working as a systems administrator at the Navy Command Center right here in the Pentagon.

He left behind a beloved wife, Tu, and their four-year-old son, An.

Tu, who also worked for the Department, was devastated by her husband's death. But she resolved to be strong to support their son. 

And so, twenty-two years later, Tu and An are incredibly close, and their tie has only grown stronger from the loss that they've endured. They talk every day. And she is so proud of the young man that An has become.

An still tries to make his dad proud, and to honor his legacy in ways big and small. That can mean echoing Khang's love of learning, or taking up the guitar, or simply staying engaged with his community and finding ways to help others—just as his dad did. 

So in September 2021, on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Tu visited this memorial to place flowers on the bench with her husband's name on it. She felt a wave of sadness looking at the benches honoring other victims that were bare. So she called up a friend, and they came back here together, and they laid a rose on each of the 184 benches around us.

And so now, thanks to Tu's simple act of kindness, every year on this day, the Department of Defense upholds that tradition, laying a rose on every bench to honor the memory of every soul taken from us here on 9/11.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are honored to have Tu and An here with us today. And I want to thank them—and all of the families of the fallen.

September 11th changed you forever.

But you changed us forever.

In so many ways, you turned grief into grit and sorrow into strength.

And you helped us to see beyond ourselves—and give back to our fellow Americans, and to deepen our democracy, and to work toward a stronger, safer future.

So it is our duty to carry out the missions that your loved ones chose.

It is our duty to live up to the goodness that they embodied.       

And it is our duty to defend the democracy that they loved so much.

So we will always seek to meet that challenge.

We will always strive to live up to their example and their memory.

We will always work to keep America safe.

And we will always, always remember.

May God bless you all. And may God continue to bless the United States of America.

Thank you very much.