Saturday, September 10, 2011

Nation Mourns Fallen, Honors New Generation, Says Defense Secretary Leon Panetta

Cheryl Pellerin, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2011 - The nation comes together this weekend to mourn nearly 3,000 innocent lives taken 10 years ago on 9/11 and to honor a new generation that has volunteered to shoulder the burden of protecting the United States, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said here last night.

"Today we not only commemorate those nearly 3,000 innocent lives who perished on Sept. 11, 2001, but we also honor those who stepped forward in the wake of those attacks -- the generation that answered the nation's call to serve at a time of war," Panetta said.

This new generation, the secretary added, "has volunteered to shoulder the burden of protecting this country, a young generation fighting for a better life, a better America and a better world."

In a Kennedy Center concert hall lit by chandeliers and festooned with large screens that held images of the National Cathedral -- the originally scheduled venue for the concert before it was damaged by a recent earthquake and a subsequent crane accident -- the Marine Chamber Orchestra, the U.S. Navy Band Sea Chanters and the Washington National Cathedral Choir honored the victims of 9/11.

On the stage, Panetta addressed hundreds of Washington dignitaries, families of those who died on 9/11, survivors of the attacks, military service members, and National Cathedral officials and staff who helped to transform the concert hall into a sacred place for the commemoration.

"Ten years ago, just days after the horrific attacks of Sept. 11, leaders from all political, religious and cultural backgrounds gathered in Washington at the National Cathedral," he said. "As the nation stood traumatized, we came together to mourn the dead, to begin the healing, and to remember those values -� of liberty, and equality, and tolerance, and fairness -� that we all hold dear and that make America the great nation that it is."

And so it is fitting, he added, "that we gather again under the leadership of the National Cathedral on this 10th anniversary of 9/11 to remember, to continue to heal, and to pledge anew that we will continue to show the world the enduring strength of the American character."

At the heart of a strong democracy, Panetta said, are citizens who are willing to roll up their sleeves and serve their country.

"It was true for our forefathers. It was true for our pioneers. It was true for the immigrants who have come to this country," said Panetta, whose own parents emigrated from Italy to the United States in the 1930s. "And it is true for all of us today."

Among the protectors of America's freedoms are the men and women throughout history who have been willing to wear the country's uniform and defend the nation's liberties and values, the secretary added.

"For 10 long years, they have fought and they have died in places such as Fallujah and Sadr City in Iraq, and in remote outposts in Afghanistan's Helmand and Korengal valleys," Panetta said. "In Iraq's city streets and in Afghanistan's mountains, this generation has spilled its blood so that their fellow citizens and future generations will have that better and safer life."

A military commander who led those men and women in battle also addressed those who attended the commemoration.

CIA Director David H. Petraeus, a retired Army general and former commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and coalition forces in Iraq, said that in large measure, the gains made against America's enemies "are a testament to the skill, energy and commitment of the members of our country's new greatest generation."

A significant number of them, he added, were inspired to join the ranks of the nation's armed forces, intelligence services and law enforcement agencies by the events of 9/11.

"Like their great-grandparents before them who survived a depression and won a war," he said, "the members of the new greatest generation have responded with courage and purpose to the great challenges of their day. They have earned their place in the long line of patriot-soldiers on which our country depends."

In the years leading up to the 10th anniversary of 9/11, more than 6,200 of America's finest sons and daughters gave "the last full measure of devotion" in Iraq and Afghanistan, Panetta said, quoting Abraham Lincoln's 1863 address at Gettysburg.

"We honor America's service members, their families [and] their sacrifices by remembering that protecting the things that we hold dear is the work of all Americans," he said. "It is the duty of the American people to share in that sacrifice. Out of the darkness of that tragic day of 9/11 has come the bright light of inspiration, renewal and resilience -- inspiration that brought a generation of young men and women to the service of their country.

"Their sacrifice will ensure that the American dream of my parents, the American dream of giving our children a better life, is achieved," the secretary continued. "But more importantly," he added, "it will ensure that we always have a government of, by and for all people. And because of their sacrifice, the torch of freedom burns brightly, now and forever."

In the above DOD photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta addresses the audience at "A Call to Compassion," a Washington National Cathedral commemoration of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, hosted at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

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