WASHINGTON, Sept. 11, 2010 — President Barack Obama this morning paid tribute to the 184 people who died in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon nine years ago today, saying America honors their sacrifice by holding firm to the nation’s ideals of unity and tolerance.
“The perpetrators of this evil act didn’t simply attack America; they attacked the very idea of America itself – all that we stand for and represent in the world,” Obama told some 200 family members of 9/11 victims gathered at the Pentagon Memorial. “And so the highest honor we can pay those we lost — indeed, our greatest weapon in this ongoing war — is to do what our adversaries fear the most: to stay true to who we are as Americans, to renew our sense of common purpose, to say that we define the character of our country and we will not let the acts of some small band of murderers who slaughter the innocent and cower in caves distort who we are.”
Obama spoke at 9:34 a.m. at the same time and place that the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon, and under strikingly similar weather conditions: a cool, September morning under a bright blue sky with the sun rising brightly over the Pentagon roof to the south side of the building.
Standing alongside Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Obama called the Sept. 11 anniversary a reflection, unity and renewal.
“We gather to remember, at this sacred hour, on hallowed ground – at places where we feel such grief and where our healing goes on,” he said.
While it’s natural to dwell on the images of carnage from the attacks and the final moments of the victims’ lives, Obama told the families, “these memorials and your presence today remind us to remember the fullness of their time on Earth.
“They were fathers and mothers raising their families, brothers and sisters pursuing their dreams, sons and daughters [with] their whole lives before them,” he said. “They were civilians and servicemembers.”
Obama noted that the victims – nearly 3,000 from the attacks on the Pentagon, at the World Trade Center in New York and aboard a hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania – were of all races and faiths. “They were Americans and people from far corners of the world,” he said. “And they were snatched from us senselessly and much too soon. But they lived well, and they live on through you.”
The legacy of the 9/11 victims should be preserved by a renewed sense of common purpose among Americans, and a conviction to not give in to an enemy that wants to divide the nation, the president said.
“As Americans, we are not and never will be at war with Islam,” Obama said. “It wasn’t a religion that attacked us on that September day. It was al-Qaida – a sorry band of men which perverts religion. And just as we condemn intolerance and extremism abroad, so will we stay true to our traditions here at home as a diverse and tolerant nation.”
In the past nine years, the United States has persevered, going on the offensive to quash al-Qaida in Afghanistan, where the attacks were planned, Obama said. “They may seek to strike fear in us, but they are no match for our resilience,” he said.
“They may seek to exploit our freedoms, but we will not sacrifice the liberties we cherish or hunker down behind walls of suspicion and mistrust,” Obama said. “Today we declare once more that we will never hand them that victory. As Americans, we will keep alive the virtues and values that make us who we are and who we must always be.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)