I was honored to attend the dedication of the 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon this morning. I was not in the building when it was attacked and I did not know any of the victims, but I have spent some in that unique edifice since, and with the people who lost friends and comrades, who inhaled the smoke and rescued the wounded. For them, the completion of the Memorial was, in the words of Jim Laychack who has served as Chairman of the Board of the Pentagon Memorial Fund, "a moment of closure."
It is perhaps fitting that this moment of closure comes in the waning days of George W. Bush's presidency. Looking back over the jumble of the last seven years it's difficult to remember the President before 9/11. That's not a coincidence. It seems in hindsight that part of the logic of the perpetrators was to prey on a young president who had come to power in a highly-contested election, and so who might be weak and easily cowed by their attack.
Well, they got something of a shock. Whatever you might say of George Bush, he has never stopped working to protect the nation since that terrible day. While many of us have let the threat drift away as it recedes in time, the President and those who have toiled with him have not had that luxury. I am glad he was still in office when the Memorial was dedicated, and could get a little something back from the respectful but enthusiastic crowd that greeted him today. He got a standing ovation.
So did former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who returned to the Pentagon for the dedication. The President referred to him as a "first responder," which of course is what he was on 9/11 and indeed for the five years following as he carried out the military side of the President's efforts against terrorism. He has passed off that heavy burden but remains fully engaged in the cause--and he had what was probably the best line of the day:
"We have been ‘acquainted with the night.’ We have taken its measure. In the darkest of times, we have stood together. In defiance, our nation has pressed on toward morning. With resolve renewed, and with the certain strength of the American people, our nation will force the dawn."
We should remember 9/11 as a new president is sworn into office next January. Whoever it is will almost certainly encounter the same sort of testing aggression from our enemies around the globe. We should thank the President and his cabinet that those enemies do not include a Taliban-harbored al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq while we remain vigilant to the other threats that remain.
Read both Secretary Rumsfeld and President Bush's full remarks after the fold.
Remarks by Donald Rumsfeld
Dedication of the Pentagon Memorial
September 11, 2008, 9:40 AM
Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, Madam Speaker, Chief Justice, Mr. Secretary, Mr. Chairman;
Members of the families of those we are here to honor;
Jim Laychak, Joyce and I are so grateful for your leadership. And we thank all of those who have done so much to help establish this important memorial;
Dick Myers, it is good to see you.
Men and women of the Pentagon -- military and civilian -- what a high honor it is to be with you again. We went through a great deal since September 11th, and I will always treasure our time together.
This morning we gather to dedicate this ground, where a great building became a battlefield, where stone became dust, steel became shrapnel; and where flame, smoke and destruction stole the lives of 184 men, women and children.
This Memorial tells the story of their last, terrible moments on this earth -- moments when families were destroyed, when a symbol of America's strength was scarred, and when our country became, in the words of an American poet, "acquainted with the night."
Today we renew our vows to never forget how this long struggle began, and to never forget those who fell first.
Remembered and honored are fellow workers, friends, and family members. They were men and women at their desks in the Pentagon, who one morning kissed their loved ones goodbye, went off to work, and never came home. And they were the passengers and the crew aboard Flight 77, who in their last moments made phone calls to loved ones, and prayed to the Almighty, before their journey ended such a short distance from where it began.
Each with different backgrounds and different dreams, it was here that their fates were cruelly merged forever. In the flag that flies above this memorial, we will be reminded of what they had in common. They fell, side by side, as Americans. And make no mistake, it was because they were Americans that they were killed here in this place.
Those of us who were in the Pentagon on September 11th, share -- and we will always share -- a very special bond with each member of their families and with each other. We will not forget the way this huge building shook. We will not forget our colleagues and friends who were taken from us and from their families. And we will not forget what that deadly attack has meant for our country.
In the sinister logic of its perpetrators, and in the suffering of its victims, September 11th was among the darkest of days for Americans. But it was also the day that America can be said to have rediscovered its special grace -- the American people's capacity for courage, for goodwill, and for sacrifice.
Here, beneath the sloping fields of Arlington National Cemetery -- fields that hold our nation's fallen -- this building stands as a silent monument to the resolve of a free people. And so too this Memorial in its shadow will stand not only as a symbol of a nation's grief, but as an eternal reminder of men and women of valor who saw flame and smoke and stepped forward to save and protect the lives of their fellow Americans on September 11th.
Let it also remind us of each of those who have volunteered to serve in our nation's Armed Forces, before and every day since. Our nation's military has stood guard in this new age of peril, determined that what happened here, seven years ago, must not happen again.
We have been "acquainted with the night." We have taken its measure. In the darkest of times, we have stood together. In defiance, our nation has pressed on toward morning. With resolve renewed, and with the certain strength of the American people, our nation will force the dawn.
My constant prayer is that God will bless the families of those we remember this day. And that the good Lord will bless all of those who have lost loved ones in the long struggle that has followed. We are deeply in their debt. And each of us will remain so for the rest of our lives.
President Bush Attends Dedication of 9/11 Pentagon Memorial The PentagonArlington, Virginia
10:08 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Mr. Vice President; Secretary Gates; Madam Speaker; Justices of the Supreme Court; members of my Cabinet and administration; members of Congress; Admiral Mullen and the Joint Chiefs; Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a first responder on September the 11th, 2001; directors of the Pentagon Memorial Fund -- Mr. Chairman, congratulations; families and friends of the fallen; distinguished guests; fellow citizens: Laura and I are honored to be with you.
Seven years ago at this hour, a doomed airliner plunged from the sky, split the rock and steel of this building, and changed our world forever. The years that followed have seen justice delivered to evil men and battles fought in distant lands. But each day on this year -- each year on this day, our thoughts return to this place. Here, we remember those who died. And here, on this solemn anniversary, we dedicate a memorial that will enshrine their memory for all time.
Building this memorial took vision and determination -- and Americans from every corner of our country answered the call. Two young architects in New York City came up with the design. A foundry near St. Louis cast the steel. An Iraqi immigrant in Illinois gave the metal its luster. And citizens from across our nation made contributions large and small to build this graceful monument.
The Pentagon Memorial will stand as an everlasting tribute to 184 innocent souls who perished on these grounds. The benches here bear each of their names. And beneath each bench is a shimmering pool filled with the water of life -- a testament to those who were taken from us, and to their memories that will live on in our hearts.
For the families and friends of the fallen, this memorial will be a place of remembrance. Parents will come here to remember children who boarded Flight 77 for a field trip and never emerged from the wreckage. Husbands and wives will come here to remember spouses who left for work one morning and never returned home. People from across our nation will come here to remember friends and loved ones who never had the chance to say goodbye.
A memorial can never replace what those of you mourning a loved one have lost. We pray that you will find some comfort amid the peace of these grounds. We pray that you will find strength in knowing that our nation will always grieve with you.
For all our citizens, this memorial will be a reminder of the resilience of the American spirit. As we walk among the benches, we will remember there could have been many more lives lost. On a day when buildings fell, heroes rose: Pentagon employees ran into smoke-filled corridors to guide their friends to safety. Firefighters rushed up the stairs of the World Trade Center as the towers neared collapse. Passengers aboard Flight 93 charged the cockpit and laid down their lives to spare countless others. One of the worst days in America's history saw some of the bravest acts in Americans' history. We'll always honor the heroes of 9/11. And here at this hallowed place, we pledge that we will never forget their sacrifice.
We also honor those who raised their hands and made the noble decision to defend our nation in a time of war. When our enemies attacked the Pentagon, they pierced the rings of this building. But they could not break the resolve of the United States Armed Forces. Since 9/11, our troops have taken the fight to the terrorists abroad so we do not have to face them here at home. Thanks to the brave men and women, and all those who work to keep us safe, there has not been another attack on our soil in 2,557 days. (Applause.)
For future generations, this memorial will be a place of learning. The day will come when most Americans have no living memory of the events of September the 11th. When they visit this memorial, they will learn that the 21st century began with a great struggle between the forces of freedom and the forces of terror. They will learn that this generation of Americans met its duty -- we did not tire, we did not falter, and we did not fail. They will learn that freedom prevailed because the desire for liberty lives in the heart of every man, woman, and child on Earth.
We can be optimistic about the future because we've seen the character and courage of those who defend liberty. We have been privileged to live amongst those who have volunteered to spread the foundation of peace and justice, which is freedom.
Seven years ago this morning, police officer Cecil Richardson was on duty here at the Pentagon. He saw the terror that day with his own eyes. He says on some nights he can still smell the burning metal and smoke. Not long ago, he wrote me saying, "I remember the reasons we fight. I remember the losses we felt. And I remember the peace we will have."
That day of peace will come. And until it does, we ask a loving God to watch over our troops in battle. We ask Him to comfort the families who mourn. And we ask Him to bless our great land.
And now it's my honor to dedicate the Pentagon Memorial. (Applause.)