Thousands of heroes died during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, many while helping others in the chaos around them, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said today during a remembrance service at the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial.
Dempsey took the stage with President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta before an audience of military and civilian officials that included family members and friends of the nearly 200 people who died 11 years ago today after hijackers crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the west side of the Pentagon.
“Sept. 11 will always stand apart from other days,” Dempsey said, “not because of what we say up here about service and sacrifice, courage and character – of course, it’s all of those things – but also because of what those things say about all of us, all Americans.”
Today, he added, “as we remember the 184 lives that ended here and all who perished in New York and in Somerset County, Pa., let us commit ourselves to the ideals for which they lived and in which they believed.”
The chairman also honored the generation inspired by those who died on 9/11 to step forward and defend the nation, he said, “a generation who fought in Iraq and who still fight in Afghanistan.”
The Pentagon Memorial captures the moment of the attack – 9:37 a.m. – and each victim’s age and location at the time. Each unit is a cantilevered bench, a lighted pool of flowing water and a permanent tribute, by name.
At today’s ceremony, Dempsey welcomed the families and friends of those lost on the grounds of the Pentagon on 9/11 and highlighted the life and death of one of them: Army Chief Warrant Officer William Ruth.
“His memorial bench of granite and steel sits in the last row in front of me, seventh in from the far right,” the chairman said. “Bill served as a Marine in Vietnam, flying helicopters. After the war, he became a social studies teacher and joined the Army National Guard, serving in the first Gulf War as a medevac pilot.”
Ruth was loved by his students, Dempsey added, who were “proud of his service and moved by his deep commitment to them and to our nation.”
“One student said, ‘He opened up my eyes and my heart to the world.’ Many others, inspired by his example, became teachers, nurses [and] firefighters, and several followed him into the life of the military,” the general told the audience.
Ruth retired from the classroom after nearly 30 years and returned to serve in the Pentagon, the chairman said.
“There is no doubt among his colleagues that he lost his life that fateful morning because in the middle of the chaos he stopped to help somebody,” Dempsey added. “There were thousands like Bill that day. They remind us that life takes on meaning only as the causes to which we attach ourselves have meaning – that in the end, we become what we are through some cause we make our own.”
Dempsey called upon all at the ceremony to rededicate their lives to the cause of giving back to the nation, and ended by quoting Panetta:
“The strength of our democracy has always rested on the willingness of those who believe in its values and in their will to serve to give something back to this country.”