On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was leaving a breakfast meeting at the Pentagon with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld when I learned of the terrible events in New York. The Pentagon would be hit minutes later – the third attack by al-Qaeda terrorists whose hatefulness would take nearly 3,000 innocent lives.
Memories of that dark day will be forever frozen in time. We remember where we were, what we were doing, who we were with. Some of us may think of the burning images of the World Trade Center that we saw on television. Others may remember a story of survival or the face of a hero.
Ten years ago today, the horror that unfolded in New York and Washington renewed the resolve of a country that has never cowered in the face of adversity. We saw the best of America in the selfless courage of firefighters, police, and the passengers of United Flight 93. We still see it in the troops fighting for our freedoms today.
From tragedy came countless acts of kindness and a swell of patriotism. Americans turned to strangers and neighbors and asked how they could help. Flags dotted our streets from coast to coast. We gathered in our homes, schools, and churches to mourn and then to mobilize. Far greater than the terror we witnessed has been the outpouring of humanity to heal and rebuild. This – not fear – is the legacy that defines the decade.
Many have remarked that September 11 changed America. There is no doubt we have persevered through this new chapter with greater vigilance and strength. We met a new enemy, and we responded with the same unconquerable spirit that has defined us time and time again – from our revolutionary beginnings to the nuclear threats of the Cold War.
Our friends and allies across the globe joined us in the War on Terror and mission in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden and many in his chain of command have reaped their just deserts. More importantly, there have been no further attacks on our homeland. The coordinated efforts of our Armed Forces and intelligence agencies have been instrumental in these achievements.
Unfortunately, our work is not finished. Indeed, the job of protecting our security is never over. We still face very real and dangerous threats from extremists who are intent on doing us harm. As President George W. Bush said in his joint address to Congress after the attacks, “The only way to defeat terrorism as a threat to our way of life is to stop it, eliminate it, and destroy it where it grows.” We must remain steadfast in this fight for a safer America and a safer world.
What September 11 could not change – much to the terrorists’ dismay – were the blessings of life, liberty, and happiness that form the bedrock of our freedom. These truths will continue to guide us through the times ahead despite those who would still like to see us suffer.
“O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years,” reads the last verse of “America the Beautiful.” This dream is protected every day by our brave soldiers, dedicated intelligence officials, and security personnel. We remain forever grateful for their service.
On today’s anniversary, we honor those we have lost, and our prayers go out to their loved ones, who continue to bear the deepest pain of that fateful Tuesday. As the inscription reads on the new memorial where the Twin Towers once stood, “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.” A decade later they remain in our hearts, where they will always stay.