A Day of Remembrance

Remembrance Foundation of South Carolina’s “A Morning of Remembrance” Event

September 11, 2020

 

Good morning everyone and thank you all for being here today.

Throughout our history, certain images became engrained in our collective memory – the flag raising at Iwo Jima; the day President Kennedy was killed; Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon; President Reagan telling the Soviets to “tear down this wall.”

But for all of us, the events of September 11, 2001 will forever live in our memories.

We shall never forget the images of planes flying into the World Trade Center or the smoke rising from the Pentagon. We shall never forget the courage and compassion of the New York City firemen and other men and women racing into burning buildings to save the innocent or those heroes who died in a Pennsylvania field. 

The days following the attack brought even more memories. We shall never forget the image of a boy leaving flowers outside the American embassy in Moscow. We shall never forget the candlelight vigils held in India and Bangladesh; thousands of Germans marching at Brandenburg Gate; one hundred thousand Canadians gathered in Ottawa; Jordanian women gathered to pray – all sharing in our sorrow. 

There is no doubt that the horrific acts of a few were surpassed by the heroic acts of many. All Sailors, Marines, Soldiers, Airmen, Coastguardsmen and first responders, to this day, continue to perform daily acts of heroism in response to the attacks. 

But the legacy of that September day lies in the worldwide embrace of freedom that followed.

Today we recall and we honor what we learned about ourselves on September 11, 2001. We recall and honor how we acted that day.

We remember once again how ordinary human beings, living their ordinary lives, reacted with extraordinary heroism when – without warning and in an instant – they were thrown face-to-face with the most fundamental questions of human existence. 

On September 11, 19 years ago, we saw ordinary people choose duty in the face of death, as the security guards in the World Trade Center continued to help people even as the buildings were collapsing around them. On September 11, we saw loyalty to friends overwhelm all sense of danger, as the New York City firefighters searched tirelessly for their own. 

Nineteen years ago today, we saw ordinary people choose self-sacrifice for the good of strangers, as the passengers on the plane over Pennsylvania refused to allow the hijackers to succeed. On September 11, 2001, we saw ordinary people choosing to spend their final moments expressing their love to their families.  

We gather here to remember, to console and to pray.  To remember comrades and colleagues, friends and family members – those lost to us on September 11th and in these past 19 years. We remember them all as heroes. And we are right to do so. 

 

We remember once again how ordinary human beings, living their ordinary lives, reacted with extraordinary heroism when – without warning and in an instant – they were thrown face-to-face with the most fundamental questions of human existence. 

 

They died because, in words of justification offered by their attackers, because they were Americans. They died 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.

Those who worked in the Pentagon on 9/11, whether in uniform or side by side with civilians, they sought not to rule, but to serve. They sought not to oppress, but to liberate. They sought not to take lives, but to protect them. 

Our task then is to remember the fallen as they were, 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 ideal for which our nation stands – the ideal of service to country and service to others. 

The events of 9/11 and these past 19 years have created a new, proud generation, the 9/11 generation, a generation that saw their nation attacked and internalized the fact that our very way of life is now threatened because of this. 

To the families and friends of our fallen fellow Americans of 9/11, as well as our fallen colleagues and comrades who fell in Iraq and Afghanistan, we extend today our deepest sympathy and condolences.  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 this life.

But as we remember together, we are also thankful – thankful for their lives, thankful for the time we had with them. And proud too that they lived their lives as Americans. 

We are mindful too, and resolute that their deaths, like their lives, shall have meaning. And that the noble birthright of human freedom – a birthright that was theirs as Americans and for which they died – will always be ours and also our children’s and our grandchildren’s. And through our efforts and example, one day, the noble birthright of human freedom will become the birthright of every human being on earth. 

For years to come, Americans will gather on this day to memorialize those lost in the tragic events of 9/11.  Americans will gather, on this very day, and recall the horrors inflicted by those who would see us, and our way of life, end. Years from now, when you and I are far past our primes, Americans will come together and remind themselves of the evil that still exists in the world.  And as much as we saw America stand for this freedom for the last 19 years, I am confident young men and women will continue to answer the call of duty and stand in the gap between our nation and the evil that will still exist in the world.

But above all of this, Americans will remember the true legacy of 9/11: that self-sacrifice exists in this nation despite what our enemies and detractors say. That values such as duty, and honor, and country still hold strong places in our national conscience.  And that love of family, of country, and of humankind, remain foremost in our minds, but more importantly in our hearts. 

This is the true lesson and legacy of September 11. We are duty bound to remember it.  So, let us resolve again, to stand together as we have before, to recommit ourselves to the principles that have made our nation free and to the values that made our military what it is today.

Hanging in my office is a picture of the Pentagon early in the morning of 9/11 that my close friend and colleague took with his personal camera. It was taken right after the building collapsed. Right where the building collapsed is a Marine general’s office. And inside the office, right on the edge of the collapse, is still standing the American flag. You can’t find it unless you look for it, but when you see it, it is indelibly there. 

That picture is forever etched in my mind, because I so vividly recall standing there watching the building burn, knowing that life as we knew it, would forever change.  And knowing our comrades were inside fighting for their lives, we could not just stand and watch. Somehow, some way, we had to find a way to get back in there and help. I will be forever grateful for this small group of teammates, that in the crucible of this tragedy, chose not to run or criticize, or complain, but to seek to help and to find a way to get back into that building, and to begin right there at that time, to begin this epic fight that has now kept our resolve for the last 19 years.

Unbeknownst to my friend when he took the picture is a ray of sunlight shining on our nation’s flag still standing. It was sunny that day, but the sun was obscured by the smoke. When he took the picture, the smoke separated allowing the sun to shine through – only for a second – but it shined bright on our country’s symbol of hope, strength, solidarity, and honor.

That picture now hangs in my office.  Wherever I am, I bring it with me to remember – to remember the tremendous sacrifice that was given that day, to remember our nation’s treasure – our very sons and daughters – that were forever lost that day, to remember the greatness of our nation and not only how she responded on 9/11, but over the last 19 years, to remember this incredible 9/11 generation that has shouldered the security of our nation again and again and again and gladly continues to do so, and mostly to remember God’s grace and His sovereignty … and may He always shed His grace on thee.