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Secretary of Defense Ash Carter Remarks at Pentagon Community Remembrance, Friday, September 11, 2015

Sept. 11, 2015
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter

General Selva, Mr. Rhodes, distinguished guests, visitors from outside the Department, friends and neighbors, ladies and gentlemen:

On few other occasions do we see more clearly that the Pentagon is more than a bureaucracy, a building, or even a proud and noble institution. In this courtyard today, you see also that we are a community, and not just any. We are connected by a unique and solemn mission: to defend our nation, to carry forward its values, and sometimes, as we remember today, to sacrifice for them.

We’re gathered here to honor 184 mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, service members and civilians, who – like thousands in New York and Pennsylvania – perished in a horrific and cowardly attack. But today, we remember far more than how these men and women were taken from us. Most of all, we remember and honor what they gave to us: through their example of service and leadership, through their friendship, through their dedication to this nation and to its defense.

On my office desk sits a piece of Indiana Limestone, collected in the rubble in the days after 9/11, which reminds me every day of their memory. It is a small piece of the Pentagon, passed down to me by each of my predecessors who’ve served as Secretary of Defense since September 11th. Beneath it reads this simple inscription: “To honor the 184 people whose lives were lost, their families, and all those who sacrificed, that we may live in freedom, we will never forget.”

The weight of those words, of this obligation, is part of what motivates me every day. It is part of what gives meaning to all of our work together.

For some in this courtyard today, this sense of obligation, to always honor and remember, is what inspired you to serve, as it did thousands of young Americans, in the years after 9/11. More than a decade later, this generation of patriots has grown older and wiser. In fact, and I can see it in the crowd today, you are fast becoming the leaders of this department and of our military, of the finest fighting force the world has ever known.

For you and for all of us today, we are here not only to remember those who died on 9/11 but also the friends, family members, and colleagues who went to war in the years that followed, all of them. Today and all days, we remember those who returned from those wars with scars, seen and unseen, as well as the heroes who did not return, who gave their last full measure of devotion to this nation.

We often speak of the greatest generation, the Americans who vanquished fascism in Europe and defeated Imperial Japan during the middle of the last century. And we should always remember what they did for us and for the world they left us. But never for a moment should we forget our own greatest generation, the men and women who, in our own time, served, sacrificed, and voluntarily answered our country’s call in Kandahar and Korengal, in Fallujah and Tal Abad, and in so many forbidding corners of the world. They served with honor, courage, and excellence. Each of our lives – and the life of this nation – is richer because of all their examples.

Earlier this morning, General Selva and I had an opportunity to speak with family members who lost loved ones at the Pentagon on September 11th. Try as we must, we can never fully know what those people have endured. But after 14 years, we do know this: those who attempt to inspire fear or terror will find no satisfaction and no success in threatening the United States. Instead, we come back – we come back from tragedy – stronger and more united.

No matter where they have harmed our service members or civilians, whether in the World Trade Center or at the Pentagon, whether at our Embassies in Beirut or in Kenya or in Tanzania, whether in the Khobar Towers or on the USS Cole, the terrorists who’ve sought to harm our people will find no safe haven. No matter how long it takes, terrorists will not escape the long arm and the hard fist of American justice. We will find you. And whether your name is Abu Sayyaf, or Junaid Hussain, or Nasser al-Wuhayshi, or Osama bin Laden, the result will be the same.

For those who lost their lives to terrorism at the Pentagon, and for all who have given their lives to our country in the days since, there is no memorial grand enough, no tribute great enough, to honor those who have sacrificed so much for so many. We cannot remember these heroes or their families on just one day. As the inscription reads on the piece of the Pentagon which sits on my desk: “That we may live in freedom, we will never forget.”

These words are not simply written in stone; they are inscribed in our hearts and carved in our will. They describe a solemn obligation which binds us together. So within this community, we will never forget. We will always remember. And we will continue to honor the memory of those we have lost with the work we accomplish together.