Washington, DC - THE VICE PRESIDENT: Secretary Mattis, General Selva, Your Royal Highness, members of the Cabinet, distinguished members of Congress, members of our Armed Forces, including the 3rd Infantry Old Guard who distinguished themselves on this day, 17 years ago; honored guests, fellow Americans, Pentagon personnel, first responders, and most especially — most especially to the family members of those who left this life, on these grounds, 17 years ago today:
It is deeply humbling for Karen and me to join you here at this National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial for the 2018 Observance fulfilling a promise engraved on the gateway of this hallowed ground that we “will never forget” what took place in this place on that fateful morning.
President Trump asked me to join you for this ceremony to pay a debt of honor and remembrance to all who fell here at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, and to express the gratitude of the American people for all who have labored every day between then and now to rebuild, to re-strengthen, and to protect this nation.
The Bible tells us that we’re to mourn with those who mourn, and grieve with those who grieve. And today as a nation, we pause to do just that.
The President and First Lady are gathered at this hour by a quiet field in Pennsylvania. In New York City, thousands gathered at Ground Zero to ring the bell and recite the names. And here, on the banks of the Potomac, we meet again in this place, where the names of our beloved fallen are recited, where they’re carved into the steel and granite benches across these hallowed grounds, and will be remembered forever in the hearts of the American people.
Seventeen years ago today, America fell under attack. Nineteen radical Islamic terrorists seized control of four commercial airlines to strike the centers of our economy, our military, and our national government.
They struck the World Trade Center first at 8:46 in the morning. The hijackers hit the North Tower. Then, 17 minutes later, as the world watched, the aircraft struck the South Tower.
At 9:28, a third group of terrorists hijacked Flight 93 in the skies above Pennsylvania and redirected the aircraft toward Washington, only to be stopped by the extraordinary heroism of the Americans on that aircraft.
And here at the Pentagon at 9:37, terrorists struck this great citadel of American strength.
The attacks on September 11th shattered the peace of that quiet September morning and claimed the lives of 2,977 men, women, and children. One-hundred eighty-four of them fell here — 59 aboard Flight 77, and 125 dedicated Americans serving in the hallways at the Pentagon and our Department of Defense.
As the families here know, they were mothers and fathers, and fathers-to-be, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. They were family. They were senior citizens and first-generation citizens. Doctors and engineers. A Sunday school teacher and a Little League coach. They were young professionals with new careers, and they were little children just finding their way in the world. They were recent recruits and decorated veterans — patriots all.
Among them were a mom and dad, and their two daughters — the Falkenbergs — who had just celebrated the third birthday of their youngest, Dana, earlier that summer.
A sixth-grade teacher, Sara Clark, chaperoning three students on a school trip from California. Her fiancé will never forget those last three words he heard: “I love you.”
There was a budget analyst for the Army, Odessa Morris, who volunteered her time and skill to serve her community as a financial counselor and a treasurer at her church.
And an Air Force veteran, Jim Lynch, who was known by his neighbors for the American flag always flying atop that 15-foot flagpole that stood in his front yard.
For the families of the fallen gathered here and all those looking on, the cherished final moments you shared with your loved ones no doubt seem like just yesterday — a goodbye kiss, a tender embrace, or one last wave. Just know that your nation understands that while we all suffered loss that day, we know you bear a special burden. But we gather here in the shadow of the building where your loved ones departed this life to say that you do not bear that burden alone. The American people stand with you — and we always will.
We stand with you today, here, and in memorial services in cities and towns all across America. We stand with you in quiet moments of reflection at bedsides and around kitchen tables, and in humble rituals of recollection and honor that will take place across the nation today.
We all remember where we were on this day, 17 years ago. Many Americans were busy getting ready for the day ahead. Some were already at work, and some were coming home after finishing a third shift. Others were in the car on a morning commute.
My wife drove our three children to elementary school on the highway right nearby these grounds just a little more than an hour before the attack.
As a new member of Congress, I was going about my normal workday routine just across the river, on Capitol Hill, when I learned of the attacks in New York City. And I’ll never forget the moment, standing in my office, when I heard a staffer shout, “The Pentagon’s been hit.”
But when I made my way out of the building and walked on to the Capitol grounds, I’ll never forget the sight of seeing columns of mud-brown and black smoke billowing out of the Pentagon, literally darkening half of that crystal-clear blue sky.
Now, while many of us remember that day like it was yesterday, a growing number of Americans have no living memory of what happened here. Roughly one-quarter of our people were born after September the 11th, 2001.
So we gather here today to reflect on what we remember — to remember the fallen, their families, and the heroes that day. But be assured, we also gather here to ensure that each succeeding generation knows the story of what happened that dark day and understands why we must learn the lessons of 9/11 and remain ever vigilant in the defense of our nation and our people.
The terrorists who carried out these attacks sought not just to take the lives of our people and crumbled buildings. They hoped to break our spirit, and they failed.
The American people showed on that day, and every day since, we will not be intimidated. Our spirit cannot be broken.
In the moments after the attack at this very place, the character, the resilience, and the courage of the people here shone forth in stories of heroism. The selfless acts of courage that took place defined the day.
There was no time to organize a formal rescue operation. So, as the fire spread, countless men and women who had evacuated the Pentagon just moments before plunged back in, risking their lives to save the wounded and help those who were trapped in the debris.
These heroes saved countless lives. Nearly all the survivors who were recovered from the rubble that day were rescued within the first 30 minutes after the attack.
And even in the midst of the attack on this Department, the men and women of the Pentagon maintained continuity of operations of America’s Armed Forces spread across the globe. It was a testament to their courage, their resilience. It was the Pentagon’s finest hour.
In the days and weeks that followed, the search and recovery efforts continued. I witnessed it firsthand when I came here, to these grounds, on September 12, 2001.
I saw the enormous black gash in the side of this edifice of our national defense. I saw the rescue and recovery personnel working diligently through the debris. I’ll never forget what I saw that day.
I saw heroism. I saw strength. There were firefighters, nurses, members of our Armed Forces, law enforcement; there were volunteers and Pentagon personnel — all working together in the hopes that there might be more to rescue in the work to recover and to begin to rebuild not just this building, but to rebuild and re-strengthen our nation.
And as they worked, just as it does today, our flag was still there. The stars and stripes were hung spontaneously from this west wall as a sign of America’s strength and our commitment to freedom.
We honor the fallen by remembering them. But as Secretary Mattis said, we also honor them by ensuring that we do everything in our power, as a nation, to prevent the evil of radical Islamic terrorism from ever reaching our shores again.
Even before the smoke cleared, and the fires had put out, Americans began to answer the call to step forward to serve this nation. And they did so by the millions.
The lines outside recruiting stations across this country reached around the block, in big cities and small towns. It’s amazing to think that, 17 years since that day, nearly 5.5 million Americans volunteered to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States. Those courageous men and women turned a day of tragedy into a triumph of freedom.
As a nation, by their courage we rallied together to meet the enemy on our terms, on their soil. And because of these heroes, for 17 years, because of the extraordinary work of law enforcement all across this country, there’s not been another major terrorist attack on American soil.
Today we remember the service and we remember the sacrifice of those who answered the call. And on this day, on 9/11, we also remember the nearly 7,000 Americans who have given their lives on the field of battle since September the 11th.
We honor them and those who were lost on this day, also, by supporting the men and women serve in our Armed Forces today.
And under our administration, I’m proud to say that we’re making the strongest military in the history of the world stronger still. Last year, President Trump signed the largest increase in our national defense in a generation.
And with that renewed support, we’re giving our men and women in uniform, and their commanding officers, the resources and rules of engagement they need to fight and win where the perpetrators of this attack found safe haven.
It’s also important to recall that the terrorists of 9/11 inspired new enemies to spread violence and their genocidal ideology across the wider world.
And today, every American should be proud that, thanks to the courage of our Armed Forces, and the leadership of our Commander-in-Chief, ISIS is on the run; their caliphate has crumbled. And we will soon drive ISIS from the face of the Earth.
The evil that descended on America 17 years ago still lingers in our world. So to any who would wish us harm, let them know this:
As the American people have shown every day since that bright September morning, as President Trump said on these grounds one year ago, in his words, we overcome every challenge, we triumph over every evil, and we remain united as one nation under God.
Max Beilke grew up in a big family, on a small farm in Minnesota. He was drafted out of high school into the United States Army and served for two years on the Korean Peninsula.
Like so many veterans of the Korean War, he reenlisted after the conflict ended. And more than 15 years later, he took up the cause of liberty fighting in the jungles of Vietnam.
On March 29, 1973, Army Master Sergeant Max Beilke became the last American combat soldier to leave Saigon. On September 11, 2001, Master Sergeant Beilke was among the first to be declared lost here at the Pentagon.
Today, on this September 11, we mourn with those who mourn, and grieve with those who grieve. But we do not grieve like those who have no hope, because heroes give us hope.
Today, we remember our beloved fallen whose names are enshrined at this memorial and will forever be etched in the hearts of the American people for as long as this nation endures. Today, we remember the families of those we lost, who endured this tragedy with strength and courage.
And today we remember the brave men and women who responded here and in New York City, and in the air over Pennsylvania, and on fields of battle in the 17 years since, who considered our lives more important than their own.
And today we breathe a prayer for all of them and all of you — a prayer that I’m told that Master Sergeant Beilke recited every time he spoke to veterans in gatherings large and small across this country. He would always end with the same words.
And so I — to you who are gathered here and have suffered this loss, to those we remember who look down from glory, and to those who fight and stand for our freedom this very hour, “May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, the rain fall soft upon your fields. And, until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”
Thank you for the opportunity to address you today. We “claim this ground in remembrance of…September 11, 2001.” We honor “the 184 people whose lives were lost, their families, and all who sacrifice that we may live in freedom.” May God bless them. May God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.