Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta delivers remarks at the Pentagon 9/11 observance ceremony, Sept. 11, 2011, honoring the 184 victims killed when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon during a terrorist attack 10 years ago. (DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)
WASHINGTON (September 11, 2011) — As he stood where a hijacked airliner slammed into the Pentagon 10 years ago today, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said the United States has become stronger and safer since Sept. 11, 2001.
“Today, Americans mark 10 years since that calm September morning when our country, our people, and our way of life came under attack,” Panetta told an estimated 1,300 people gathered outside the Pentagon this morning.
Panetta, along with Vice President Joe Biden and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke during a ceremony honoring the 184 people killed at the Pentagon and on American Airlines Flight 77 on 9/11.
The entire nation, the secretary said, joined those gathered at the Pentagon, at the World Trade Center site in New York, and in Shanksville, Pa., today in remembering the nearly 3,000 people who died that day at those places.
At 9:37 a.m., 10 years to the minute since Flight 77 hit the building, the crowd at the Pentagon hushed in a moment of silence for the men, women and children who died in the smoke, flame and wreckage following the impact.
From the ceremony site, audience members could see both the part of the building damaged in the attacks – rebuilt by Sept. 11, 2002 – and the Pentagon Memorial, dedicated on the seventh anniversary of the attacks.
“At this very moment, on this very spot, it is difficult to believe that … this was the scene of incredible devastation,” Panetta said.
The attacks a decade ago demonstrated “vicious hatred aimed squarely at our values,” he said.
“They tried to weaken us; instead, they made us stronger,” he added.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Panetta said, Americans came together to reaffirm “our shared belief in liberty, equality, tolerance and fairness. And 10 years later, we again affirm our commitment to those enduring beliefs.”
The strength of America’s democracy rests in the willingness of its citizens to give something back, and to fight and sacrifice in times of crisis, the secretary said.
“Sept. 11 was such a time,” he said. “In the wake of the attacks, a generation of Americans stepped forward to serve in uniform, determined to confront our enemies, [and] to respond to them swiftly and justly.”
Over the past decade, service members have relentlessly pursued those who would harm the nation, Panetta said.
“Because of their sacrifices, we are a safer and stronger nation today,” he added. “And the principal terrorist behind these attacks has been brought to justice.”
More than 6,200 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsman have lost their lives in the wars since 9/11, and like the victims of that day, they always will be remembered for their ultimate sacrifice to the nation, he said.
“Today, we think of their families, who have suffered tragedy and heartbreak,” he said. “We think of the thousands of veterans who carry the seen and unseen wounds of war, … and we grieve for those lost.”
That grief serves as inspiration to make the nation stronger and better for future generations of Americans, Panetta said.
“On this spot, at this moment, 10 years later, this is our solemn prayer and our solemn pledge – for ourselves, for our children, for our nation, to our world,” he said.