President Joe Biden participates in a wreath-laying ceremony to remember victims of the 9/11 terror attack at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., on Sunday, September 11, 2022. Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 11 (UPI) — President Joe Biden delivered a speech from the Pentagon on Sunday to remember 21 years since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, saying that the United States has kept its promise to “never forget.”
Biden was joined by Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in honoring the families of victims and those who have served in the military and as first responders since Al Qaeda carried out the attacks on U.S. soil more than two decades ago.
Vice President Kamala Harris was expected to visit Ground Zero in New York City while First Lady Jill Biden spoke from Pennsylvania at the site of the crash of flight United Flight 93.
“I hope that we will remember that in the midst of those dark days, we dug deep, we cared for each other and we came together. You know, we regain the light by reaching out to one another and finding something all too rare — a true sense of national unity,” Biden said.
“To me, that is the greatest lesson from Sept. 11 — not that we will never again face a great setback but in a moment of great unity we also had to face down the worst impulses, fear, violence, recrimination directed against Muslim Americans as well as Americans of middle eastern and south Asian heritage.
“It’s that for all our flaws and disagreements, in the push and pull of all that makes us human, there is nothing this nation cannot accomplish when we stand together and defend with all our hearts that makes us unique in the world: our democracy.”
Biden said that the “American story itself” changed on Sept. 11 but that the terror attacks that day showed the world the country’s character.
“What is that character? The character of sacrifice and love, of generosity and grace, of strength and resilience,” Biden said.
“In the crucible of 9/11, and the days and months that followed, we saw what stuff Americans are made of. Think of all of your loved ones, particularly those on that flight, ordinary citizens who said, ‘We will not let this stand,’ and risked and lost their lives so even more people would not die.”
Biden praised the heroic police officers and firefighters “who stood on the pile at Ground Zero for months amid that twisted steel and concrete slabs breathing the toxins and ash that would damage their health, refusing to stop the search through the destruction.”
The president recounted how he could see the smoke and flames rising from the Pentagon as he headed to his office as a U.S. senator.
“Pentagon staff showed up to work on Sept. 12 more determined than ever to keep their country secure,” Biden said.
He also called back to comments he made as vice president under former President Barack Obama, warning that the U.S. would follow Islamic State militants “into the gates of hell” after they beheaded two American journalists.
“In the years since 9/11, hundreds of thousands of American troops have served in Afghanistan, Iraq and so many places around the world to deny terrorists a safe haven and protect the American people,” Biden said.
“It took 10 years to hunt down and kill Osama bin Laden, but we did,” he added.
During his speech, Biden also briefly addressed the memory of Queen Elizabeth II of Britain and her message to Americans after 9/11.
“I remember a message sent to the American people from Queen Elizabeth,” Biden said.
“It was on Sept. 11, her ambassador read a prayer of service at St. Thomas Church in New York where she pointedly reminded us, ‘Grief is the price we pay for love.'”
Milley thanked the more than 3 million Americans who enlisted to serve in the military after the terror attacks that day.
“We deploy to engage the enemies of our country, to protect and defend the principles that came under attack this day, 21 years ago. Each of you sacrificed to defend this country and its values. Each of you did your duty and each of you deserves our nation’s eternal gratitude.
Hate and terror can damage but can never destroy the strength of America, the ideas that are our very foundation and the values of the pillars of this great nation.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was audibly emotional as he told families of the victims that “these moments of tribute are not easy.”
“We know the resiliency that you have shown over these long years. It gives us all strength,” Austin said.
“Today we stand together to remember a day of horror and loss. A day when Al Qaeda terrorists murdered 2,977 innocent souls including 184 people here at the Pentagon.
“But we also remember a day of monumental courage and compassion. A day when people responded to evil and fanaticism with goodness and generosity.”
Austin said that many acts of heroism were seen that day at the Pentagon as colleagues worked to rescue their teammates, moving rubble with their bare hands and using damp shirts as face masks to protect from the soap.
He recounted the story of a woman who was crawling on the second floor of the facility who told another coworker to climb on her back so she could carry her colleague out.
“That is the spirit of the people of this building and all those who responded to the scene,” Austin said.
Austin in his speech also addressed the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan just over a year ago, stating that the United States continues its “relentless focus on combatting terrorist threats to our nation.”
“Earlier this summer, the United States delivered justice to Ayman al-Zawahiri — the leader of Al Qaeda,” Austin said.
“So make no mistake, America’s determination to keep our country safe will never waver and neither will America’s determination to bring justice to those who attack our citizens.”
Jill Biden spoke at the ceremony in Shanksville to remember the victims onboard United Airlines Flight 93, which was bound for Washington, D.C., but crashed into an open field in rural Pennsylvania after heroic passengers stormed the cockpit and fought the terrorists who hijacked the plane.
The first lady, whose sister is a flight attendant with United Airlines, began her speech by addressing members of the Association of Flight Attendants, commenting on the abuse they have received from rowdy passengers.
“I know the last few years have been challenging for your members facing unkind and even violent passengers, but to those flight attendants, I want you to know that Americans see your dedication and we are grateful for it,” said Jill Biden, who was joined by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
“Most of all, I want to thank the families of the crew and passengers of Flight 93 for sharing your love and memories of today and I am deeply honored to be with you all.”
The 9/11 Memorial Museum in Manhattan live-streamed its annual remembrance of the terror attacks, with a reading of the names of those who died that day.