WASHINGTON, Sept. 11, 2010 — As the nation today honors the nearly 3,000 innocent Americans killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Americans also should remember the sacrifice of military members and their families, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today.
“Nine years ago today, on a day much like this, the calm of a clear, September morning was shattered by the worst acts of terrorism in our nation’s history,” Gates said. “Today we honor and celebrate those who fell, surrounded by those who love them and who still feel the pain of that loss.”
Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the nation’s top-ranking military officer, joined President Barack Obama in a remembrance ceremony at the Pentagon’s 9/11 Memorial today.
The memorial opened on the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. It was built adjacent to the Pentagon, near the site where al-Qaida terrorists crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the nation’s military headquarters.
Families of people who died in the attack also gathered at the ceremony. The terrorist hijacking left 184 people dead: 125 Pentagon workers and 59 on the aircraft. All five hijackers also were killed in the crash.
Over the past nine years, more than 5,500 servicemembers have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan with hopes of preventing future terrorist attacks on American soil. U.S. and international troops deployed to Afghanistan in October 2001 to interdict terrorist planning and training there. American troops entered Iraq in March 2003.
“Our troops and their families have paid a steep price these last nine years, but have also shown resilience and strength in the best traditions of the country, a country that cherishes their service and the memory of those who have fallen,” Gates said.
An entire generation of servicemembers has responded to that mission and continues to do so today, Gates said, as nearly 100,000 troops are deployed to Afghanistan.
“Today we also reflect on what those attacks meant for an entire generation of young Americans who answered the call to serve,” the secretary said. “Since then, thousands have made the ultimate sacrifice, and their absence, too, is felt today and every day.”
The sacrifices of those killed on 9/11 and since never will be forgotten, Mullen said. He noted that a hand-stitched quilt was dedicated to the Pentagon yesterday in honor of the fallen here. The quilt includes pictures of all 184 victims who died at the Pentagon that day.
Mullen called attention to a quote he saw written on the quilt: “In our hearts, we weep for you. In our minds we honor you.”
“Today, those words still comfort us, because today we still weep for those we lost here and in New York and Somerset County [Pennsylvania],” the admiral said. “We honor them with our presence, and certainly with this memorial.”
Mostly, Mullen said, America honors the victims of 9/11, past and present, by their actions in light of such a tragedy.
“Unspeakable carnage was visited upon us here, but it did not conquer us,” he said. “Unimaginable loss was felt by us here, but it does not diminish us.
“Let us weep for what lies behind us,” he continued. “Let us honor what lies in front of us. But let us remember always what lies inside of us.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)