DOD Leaders: Pentagon personnel transcend 9/11 tragedy
WASHINGTON, Sept. 11, 2013 – Twelve years ago today at 9:37 a.m., a doomed airliner slammed into the western wall of the Pentagon, stealing 184 lives in eight tenths of a second, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey told an audience this afternoon in the building’s courtyard.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was in the building the day that, as he described it, sections of three of the Pentagon's outermost rings were pulverized, fireballs blazed, and black billowing smoke stretched skyward.
Dempsey along with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Michael Rhodes, director of administration and management, gathered in the Pentagon courtyard to remember those who died that day and to honor, he said, those who transcended the tragic images and fearful memories of that day.
Hagel welcomed members of the Pentagon community to the 9/11 observance, noting that though time continually moves the world further away from Sept. 11, 2001, “we will never forget the men and women that our Pentagon community lost that day.”
Everyone who works at the Pentagon today, whether or not they were in the building on 9/11, the secretary said, are deeply aware of its legacy of courage and resilience. That legacy, Hagel added, “is a source of strength to each and every person in our community and in our country. It gives us all a sense of purpose and pride and strengthens our determination to continue the hard work of keeping this country safe.”
Twelve years after the worst terrorist attack in the nation's history, he said, the world is markedly different, but there are critical lessons in the tragedy of 9/11 for the Defense Department, for all Americans and for the world.
“Above all, 9/11 is a clear, living example of how the United States is not insulated from … events and threats … that take place halfway across the globe, in places like Afghanistan,” Hagel said. “These events … do matter profoundly in our society.”
The tragedy of 9/11 was a “jarring gong of preservation” for the American people and for those who still grapple with its consequences and implications, Hagel said, quoting Winston Churchill on the unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective.
“But if there's one clear message we can take away, it is that we must be vigilant,” the secretary said, “we must always stay ahead of emerging challenges and threats, and we must take action -- but wise action -- when necessary to defend our interests and our country.”
The highest responsibility of those at the Defense Department is to defend the national interest, Hagel added, with clear thinking and dedication.
“I'm reminded of a powerful photograph that was taken just minutes after the Pentagon attack,” Dempsey said in his remarks. “The photo became one of National Geographic's 25 most indelible images of 9/11. If you haven't seen it, it would do your heart good to go back and look at it.”
The picture was snapped a few hundred yards from where Flight 77 struck the Pentagon, he said. “It focuses on the small circle of people who represent what's best about everyone who works here. It captures your remarkable spirit, and it captures you,” he added.
“In the image, three uniformed military personnel, two civilians, an EMT, and a chaplain are attending to a wounded co-worker. All seven disregard the chaos and the terror all around them. Instead of running away in an understandable fear for their own lives and safety, these seven souls instead ran toward the fallen one. They chose to care for one another,” the general said, going on to describe the photo in more detail.
“Therein lies your legacy,” the general said. “It's one of compassion, of courage, and of community, along with incredible resolve and resilience.”
Dempsey said there’s a quiet heroism in the Pentagon’s workforce and in those the workforce supports.
“It's a spirit and pride that permeates these hallways. You're devoted to an uncommon profession, a calling that is bigger than yourselves. And as that photograph testified, you're dedicated to one another,” he said. “That steadfast dedication is what helped us forge a new tomorrow.”