WASHINGTON, Sept. 11, 2012 – With flags flying at half-staff and under a cloudless blue sky hauntingly similar to the day America was attacked 11 years ago, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta today paid tribute to the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon and praised America’s service members.
“Fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, service members and civilians” had perished in the attack on the Defense Department’s headquarters, said Panetta, who addressed military members and civilians that had gathered in the Pentagon’s center courtyard.
During his remarks, Panetta praised the millions of American service members “who stepped forward to answer that call to serve in uniform” when the attacks thrust the nation into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“They are the latest in a proud lineage of Americans who raised their right hand in a time of need and volunteered to serve this country,” Panetta said of America’s service members. “They have carried the burden of protecting America for 11 years, relentlessly pursuing those who would do us harm,” including the late mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden, who has been “brought to justice.”
It was 9:37 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 77 struck the west side of the Pentagon, causing a partial building collapse and killing 184 people including everyone on board the Boeing 757 which had taken off earlier from Washington’s Dulles airport for Los Angeles.
Despite extensive structural damage, the rebuilding of the Pentagon, dubbed the Phoenix Project, was completed within a year, to be followed by an outdoor memorial to those who perished here.
“We saw the Pentagon community rededicate itself to its vital mission of protecting this country. This is the enduring legacy of 9/11,” Panetta said.
In the years since, 9/11 observances have begun to assume a lower profile. But at the nation’s defense headquarters, there are daily reminders that the country is still fighting a war rooted in the events of that day 11 years ago, and as Panetta noted, of the sacrifices made by those who have done the fighting.
“They have fought and bled in places like Ramadi and Sadr City. And they continue fighting to keep us safe in remote outposts across Afghanistan,” Panetta said.
While the last American combat troops left Iraq in December, more than 70,000 U.S. service members are deployed in Afghanistan. Panetta reminded Americans that their security depends on the work being carried out by these individuals and the Defense Department at large.
“Today, we stop to recall the insecurity and vulnerability that all of us felt as the sun set on that terrible day 11 years ago,” Panetta said. “It is a painful memory, but it is a necessary one, as it reminds all of us why we must never get complacent, why we must never doubt the importance of the work that we do here, and why we can never fail, every day, to give it our all.”