Those in attendance knew the 184 people who were killed at the Pentagon more than two decades ago.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, 19 al-Qaida terrorists launched the worst attack on American soil since Japan’s assault on Pearl Harbor in 1941. They hijacked four commercial airplanes and effectively turned the jetliners into explosive precision missiles for their suicide mission. The first plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. Sixteen minutes later, a second plane hit the South Tower. New Yorkers abandoned their cars in rush-hour traffic and watched as the towers collapsed.
Yet another plane smashed into the Pentagon, headquarters of the Department of Defense in Arlington, Virginia. The final hijacked plane was destined for the Capitol but went down in western Pennsylvania after passengers tried unsuccessfully to wrest control of the cockpit. Nearly 3,000 people from 93 countries died that day.
The Pentagon was ultimately repaired, and a new World Trade Center rose. But the attack’s scars, both literal and figurative, remain. Chaplain John Goodloe of the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington gave the invocation. “Our land needs healing, Oh God,” he prayed, stressing the importance of diversity and interfaith tolerance.
After remarks from Deputy Defense Director Sajeel Ahmed and Admiral Christopher Grady, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks delivered a keynote address.
“As someone who remembers vividly the course of my own steps right here at the Pentagon that day,” she said, “I can tell you: sharing these personal reflections remains hard.”
Hicks highlighted her colleagues’ heroism, echoing Ahmed’s remarks. All of the speakers shared a common message: resilience.
Hicks called on adults to continue an intergenerational dialogue. Young Americans, she said, must be taught to appreciate how the events of September 11 have changed the world around them, even if “[t]hey were too young [to remember] or hadn’t yet been born.”
“You are not alone,” she told an audience of surviving family members, first responders, and coworkers who were spared. “We have not forgotten about you or those we’ve lost. And we never will. Thank you.”
President Joe Biden plans to pay his respects at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska, en route from India’s G20 summit and a diplomatic meeting in Hanoi.