SECRETARY RUMSFELD: We are gathered because of what happened here on September 11, events that bring to mind tragedy but also our gratitude to those who came to assist that day and, afterwards, those we saw every day at the Pentagon site: the guards, police, fire and rescue workers, the defense protective service and the hospitals, the Red Cross, chaplains, the family service professionals and volunteers and so many others.
And yet, our reason for being here today is something else. We’re gathered here to remember, to console and to pray to remember comrades and colleagues, friends and family members, those lost to us on September 11. We remember them as heroes, and we are right to do so.
They died because, in the words of justification offered by their attackers, they were Americans. They died then because of how they lived as free men and women, proud of their freedom, proud of their country and proud of their country’s cause, the cause of human freedom. And they died for another reason, the simple fact that they worked here in this building, the Pentagon.
It is seen as a place of power, the locus of command for what has been called the greatest accumulation of military might in history; and yet a might used far differently than the long course of history has usually known.
In the last century, this building existed to oppose two totalitarian regimes that sought to oppress and to rule other nations. And it is no exaggeration of historical judgment to say that without this building and those who work here, those two regimes would not have been stopped or thwarted in their oppression of countless millions. But just as those regimes sought to rule and oppress, others in this century seek to do the same by corrupting a noble religion.
Our president has been right to see the similarity and to say that the fault, the evil is the same: It is the will to power, the urge to dominion over others to the point of oppressing them, even to taking thousands of innocent lives or more, and that this oppression makes the terrorist a believer not in the theology of God, but the theology of self and in the whispered words of temptation, “ye shall be as gods.”
In targeting this place then and those who worked here, the attackers, the evildoers, correctly sensed that the opposite of all they were and stood for resided here. Those who worked here, those whom on September 11 died here, whether civilian or in uniform, side by side, they sought not to rule but to serve, they sought not to oppress but to liberate. They worked not to take lives but to protect them and they tried not to pre-empt God but to see to it his creatures lived as he intended, in the light and dignity of human freedom.
Our first task, then, is to remember the fallen as they were or as they would have wanted to be remembered: living in freedom, blessed by it, proud of it and willing like so many others before them and like so many today, to die for it and to remember them as believers in the heroic idea for which this nation stands and for which this building exists: the idea of service to country and to others.
Beyond all this, their deaths remind us of a new kind of evil. The evil of a threat and menace through which this nation and the world has now been fully awakened because of them. In causing this awakening, then, the terrorists have assured their own destruction. And those we mourn today have, in the moment of their death, assured their own triumph over hate and fear.
For out of this act of terror and the awakening it brings here and across the globe will surely come a victory over terrorism, a victory that one day may save millions from the harm of weapons of mass destruction. And this victory, their victory, we pledge today. But if we gather here to remember them, we are also here to console. To console those who shared their lives, those who loved them. And yet the irony is that those whom we have come to console have given us the best of all consolations by reminding us not only of the meaning of the deaths, but of the lives of their loved ones. “He was a hero long before this 11th of September,” said a friend of one of those we’ve lost, “a hero every single day. A hero to his family, to his friends and to his peers.”
A veteran of the Gulf War, hardworking, he showed up at the Pentagon at 3:30 in the morning and then headed home in the early afternoon to be with his children, all of whom he loved dearly, but one of whom he gave very special care and love, because she needs very special care and love. About him and those who served with him, his wife said, “It is not just when a plane hits the building, they are heroes everyday.” Heroes every day.
We’re here to affirm that and to do this on behalf of America, and also to say to those who mourn, who have lost loved ones, known that the heart of America is here today, that it speaks to each one of you words of sympathy, consolation, compassion and love, and all the love that is the heart of America, and the great heart it is, can muster.
Watching and listening today Americans everywhere are saying, I’m sure, ‘I wish I could be there to tell them how sorry we are, how much we grieve and to tell them, too, how thankful we are for those they loved.’ A Marine captain, in trying to explain why there could be no
human explanation for a tragedy such as this, once said, “You would think it would break the heart of God.”
We stand today in the midst of tragedy, the mystery of tragedy, yet a mystery that is part of that larger awe and wonder that causes us to bow our head in faith and say of those we mourn, those we have lost, the words of Scripture: “Lord, now let thy servants go in peace. Thy word has been fulfilled.”
To the families and friends of our fallen colleagues and comrades, we extend our deepest sympathy, our condolences and those of the American people. We pray that God will give some share of the peace that now belongs to those we lost, to those who knew and loved them in life. But as we grieve together, we are also thankful. Thankful for their lives, thankful for the time we had them with us and proud, too, as proud as they were that they lived their lives as Americans.
We are mindful, too, and resolute that their deaths, like their lives, shall have meaning. That the birthright of human freedom, a birthright that was theirs as Americans and for which they died, will always be ours and our children’s and through our efforts and our example one day the birthright of every man, woman and child on earth.