Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined Obama during a 9/11 remembrance ceremony and wreath laying at the Pentagon today.
“We remember with reverence the lives we lost. We read their names. We press their photos to our hearts,” Obama said. “And on this day that marks their death, we recall the beauty and meaning of their lives, men and women and children of every color and every creed, from our across our nation and from more than a hundred others.”
The crowd gathered at the two-acre Pentagon Memorial was composed of families of the 184 victims killed here when hijackers barreled American Airlines Flight 77 into the façade of the U.S. military’s top headquarters. In total, nearly 3,000 died who perished in coordinated attacks here, in New York and aboard the hijacked United Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania.
“Eight Septembers have come and gone. Nearly 3,000 days have passed — almost one for each of those taken from us,” Obama said. “But no turning of the seasons can diminish the pain and the loss of that day; no passage of time and no dark skies can ever dull the meaning of this moment.
“So on this solemn day, at this sacred hour, once more we pause, once more we pray, as a nation and as a people — in city streets where our two towers were turned to ashes and dust, in a quiet field where a plane fell from the sky, and here where a single stone of this building is still blackened by the fires,” he added.
The president called on Americans to renew their resolve against those who perpetrated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and who continue to plot against the U.S.
“In defense of our nation, we will never waiver,” he said. “In pursuit of al Qaeda and its extremist allies, we will never falter. Let us renew our commitment to all those who serve in our defense — our courageous men and women in uniform and their families, and all those who protect us here at home. Mindful that the work of protecting America is never finished, we will do everything in our power to keep America safe.”
The defense secretary said the anniversary is a time to honor the dead and to speak to the survivors and loved ones whose lives are irrevocably changed on 9/11.
“Words are inadequate to remove the pain of that loss. In the lives these patriots, we can find some solace,” he said. “Because they lived, and because of the great pinnacle of their sacrifice and because of the sacrifice of thousands more since that day, we remain a strong and free nation.”
Gates noted that the men and women killed in the attack on the Pentagon will continue to be honored by participants in the memorial’s docent program, which officially launched today. The goal of the program organizer Lisa Dolan, whose husband, Navy Capt. Robert E. Dolan, died in the attack, is to personalize the memorial for visitors so they can better understand the human impact of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Volunteer speakers, or docents, from the Pentagon — military members, civilian employees, contractors — will share their own firsthand accounts of the 9/11 attacks at the memorial.
“She and other 9/11 family members have added something poignant and profound to this program,” Gates said of Dolan and the other volunteers.
In the spirit of the docent program, Mullen recalled his personal memories of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks during remarks to the audience.
“Who among us can ever forget where we were, what we saw, how we felt as citizens and as a nation?” he said. “I myself remember the shudder and the smoke, the shipmates I lost, and how the whole world changed that day.”
Mullen said that Americans share a common sorrow for the 3,000 victims “stolen from us, right before our eyes and well before their time.” But the chairman urged the audience to look upon the day not only with sorrow but also with hope for the future.
“Let us face that future with the same resolve our men and women in uniform exhibit, the same courage with which they serve and struggle to ensure another day like that day never happens again,” he said.
“America has sent her armed forces forward with that task. In harm’s way, you have deployed them. And in harm’s way, they stand for you and for each other,” he said. “Many of them, more than 1 million, have enlisted after 9/11. Because of 9/11, they volunteered to defend their country, to fight for something bigger than themselves.”
Mullen said those serving in U.S. military uniforms around the world are “doing magnificently” in carrying out the nation’s cause. They are supported by extraordinary families who work and worry and wait, and who serve every bit as much, he said.
“All of them know the stakes. All of them know that the people behind the 9/11 attacks are planning and plotting others, that al Qaeda and its extremist allies would like nothing better than to strike us again,” he said.
“Eight years of war has changed our troops and their families, but it has not bested them,” he continued. “Indeed, it is difficult to describe the selflessness I see when I visit them in the field and in the fleet, in hospitals, and here at home. “