WASHINGTON — On a sunny morning reminiscent of one 11 years ago, the nation’s top leaders on Tuesday pledged to remember those who died in the 9/11 attacks and to press on with the fight against terrorism that began in earnest that day.
“It was a day like this one — a clear blue sky, but a sky that would soon be filled with clouds of smoke and prayers of a nation shaken to its core,” President Barack Obama said during a ceremony at the Pentagon Memorial that was closed to the public.
Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey each spoke to a crowd that included families of the 184 victims of the attack on the Pentagon, as well as survivors, some of whom had helped pull others from the rubble after a hijacked airliner struck the building.
The murder of nearly 3,000 people at the Pentagon, in New York and in Pennsylvania, Obama said, mobilized the nation to take action to defeat a growing threat.
“It’s because of their sacrifice that we’ve come together and dealt a crippling blow to the organization that brought evil to our shores,” Obama said. “Al-Qaida’s leadership has been devastated and Osama bin Laden will never threaten us again.”
Though diminished, al-Qaida remains a threat that the United States remains determined to destroy, Panetta said.
“We will continue to fight them in Yemen, in Somalia, in North Africa, wherever they go, to make sure they have no place to hide,” he said. “Our troops denied safe haven to al-Qaida and its allies in Afghanistan and they’re fighting so that Afghanistan can secure and govern itself.
“Make no mistake, we will continue to pursue and fight our enemies wherever they go, wherever they hide, wherever they try to find refuge. We will never stop until we made sure that America is safe.”
At a second ceremony later in the day that was open to all Pentagon personnel, Panetta lauded the efforts and sacrifices of the millions of Americans who have served in the military since 9/11.
“They are the latest in a proud lineage of Americans who raised their right hands in a time of need and volunteered to serve this country,” he told spectators assembled in the Pentagon courtyard. “They have carried the burden of protecting America for 11 years, relentlessly pursuing those who would do us harm. They are truly the ‘next greatest generation.’”