Sept. 11, 2020
GENERAL MARK MILLEY: Mr. Secretary, distinguished guests, and especially the survivors and families of the fallen, watching from across the nation, thank you for participating in this morning's ceremony.
Nineteen years ago today began as a typical morning for Pentagon employees. They commuted to work under a near-cloudless sky with temperatures in the low 60s, and it promised to be a beautiful day. Here in this building, military members and Defense civilians exercised at the athletic center and sipped their morning coffee and prepared for routine meetings and the day's work.
And all that changed at 9:37 a.m. In seconds, scores of lives were lost. One hundred and eighty-four men, women, and children were murdered in a violent impact and fiery blast. The innocent ranged in age from three to 71 years. Those who perished here, along with almost 3,000 more in New York City and in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, they were killed for what they believed in and for what they represented. But their memory and their legacy will live on as we honor and remember them all today.
The horrific acts of terrorism on that day were meant to disrupt our way of life and destroy the idea that is America. The idea is simple, yet very powerful: the idea that terrorists hate and fear; the idea that all of us, men and women, black and white, Asian or Indian -- no matter what the color of our skin, no matter if we are Catholic or Protestant, Muslim or Jew, or if we 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 and fall based on our merit, not because of our race or religion or anything other than our competence and our character; the idea of a free press, free speech, due process, the right to peacefully assemble and demonstrate and protest; the idea of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
All of that is what our fallen believed in, and all of that is what they represented. All the values and principles embedded in our Constitution and made real in our own daily lives were paid for in the blood of the fallen. Those ideas were, and still are, hated by our enemies, by fascists, Nazis, Communists, al Qaida, ISIS, authoritarians, dictators, and tyrants of all kinds. They hate those ideas. They hate those values, and on 9-1-1 -- on 9/11 -- they tried to destroy us.
But their murderous intent was never realized. Instead of sowing division and strife, we gathered at the murder scenes in New York City and Pennsylvania, and right here at the Pentagon, and we came together as a nation.
In the chaos and fog of the attacks, soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, civilians, first responders -- all brave, all selfless, ran into the flames to help the injured and the wounded. In the smoke and the dust and the rubble, no one could discern another's physical attributes, nor were they concerned with each other's background. What mattered is they were helping one another. What mattered is they were Americans with complete unity of purpose.
Now, almost two decades later, their legacy of service and sacrifice continues. Since 9/11, almost three million Americans have deployed overseas, serving their country in the war against terrorism, and nearly 6,000 have laid down their lives on the altar of freedom for the principles that came under attack on that day.
And today, we gather here to honor the fallen of 9/11. To remember and reflect and to reaffirm our resolve to support and defend the Constitution, the idea and reality that is America, for which those brave souls gave the last full measure of devotion.
So let us resolve -- let us resolve here yet again today to never forget those who were murdered by the terrorists. Never forget those who rushed to save lives, and in the process, gave their own. Never forget the sons and the daughters, the brothers, the sisters, the mothers, the fathers, who gave their tomorrows for our todays. Honor them. Honor them today and forever, and honor the cause they served.
Ladies and gentlemen, it's my great pleasure to now introduce the 27th secretary of defense, the Honorable Mark Esper.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE MARK T. ESPER: Thank you, General Milley.
Distinguished guests, senior leaders, and most importantly, the survivors and the friends and family who lost lo-- loved ones on that solemn day 19 years ago, thank you for joining us as we pay tribute to the nearly 3,000 innocent lives that were suddenly and violently taken from us at the World Trade Center in New York City, at a quiet field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and here at the Pentagon.
Much like this morning, on September 11, 2001, Americans were getting ready for what they would -- what they thought would be just another workday. No one could fathom that on that bright September morning we would experience the worst terrorist attack in our nation's history, a horrific crime carried out by evil fanatics who would brutally kill the innocent in the name of their distorted cause. It was a vicious assault, directed not just our people and our institutions, but also at our most sacred ideals: freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Yet in their attempt to shake the very foundations of our republic, to destroy our way of life, they underestimated our strength, our resolve, and our unbreakable spirit.
We came together as a nation on that fateful day and witnessed a tremendous outpouring of courage, compassion, and sacrifice amid the grief, the darkness, and the disarray. The Stars and Stripes, that great symbol of our great nation, would soon adorn homes and businesses all across America.
We remember vividly the images of first responders and volunteers covered in soot and ash, running undaunted toward the smoke, the fire, the chaos again and again to rescue the trapped and the injured.
Here at the Pentagon, we honor and remember the numerous acts of heroism and personal courage that prevented the human toll from becoming much, much worse. In one account, intrepid Americans, determined to save their colleagues, rolled in pools of standing water to protect themselves from the intense fire and heat as they repeatedly rushed back into the burning rubble and smoldering ruins.
Meanwhile, engineers, mechanics and hundreds of others jumped into action, keeping this building operating, even as firefighters battled the raging inferno brought on by Flight 77's jet fuel. The resourcefulness and determination allowed the Pentagon to continue its vital role of directing the readiness and response of U.S. military forces worldwide without missing a beat. And maybe most importantly, these heroes demonstrated to the world, especially our enemies, the resilience of America's Armed Forces and of our people.
Since 9/11, millions of Americans have stepped up to serve this great country, all swearing that solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution, and with many paying the ultimate price to ensure that such an attack never happens again.
That remains our standard to this day. Whether denying safe haven to terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq, defeating the physical caliphate of ISIS, preventing violent extremists from getting a foothold on the African continent or bringing to justice terrorist leaders wherever they hide, the United States military continues to defend our homeland, our people and our way of life.
And so today, we also recognize those who've answered our nation's call, and we honor the legacy of our brave service members who have laid down their lives to secure the blessings of this great nation. Because of their selfless service, sacrifice, and unshakable commitment to our Constitution, America stands stronger, safer and more secure.
To the friends and families of those who have perished, no words can ever soothe your grief. No act will ever replace your loss. No remembrance will ever fill that void. But please, please know that the men and women of the Department of Defense will always be with you as we give our sacred pledge that your loved ones will not have died in vain, so long as we stand watch over this great nation.
It is in that spirit that we commemorate today, and every 9/11 that follows, to reflect on the blessings of this great country, to renew our commitment to the principles that have kept our homeland free, and to reaffirm our solemn vow as Americans that will -- we will never forget the lives lost and tremendous sacrifices made on that fateful day and the -- in the years that follow. May God bless you, and may God bless America. Thank you.