In the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the terrorists came to destroy the "idea that is America" but only awakened the nation's resolve to defend and preserve liberty for all, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said Friday in a solemn virtual ceremony at the Pentagon.
The 184 innocents who died when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. that day were "killed for what they believed in," Milley said, "but their memory and legacy will live on as we honor and remember them today."
He noted that the oldest victim was 71 and the youngest three years old, saying that all were killed with the intent of eradicating a vision of America that takes many forms.
One is that "all of us, men and women, black and white, Asian or Indian -- no matter what the color of our skin, no matter if we are Catholic or Protestant, Muslim or Jew, or if we choose not to believe at all," have been "created free and equal."
Another is a firm belief in "a free press, free speech, due process, the right to peacefully assemble and demonstrate and protest; the idea of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," Milley said.
In his remarks, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said, "No one could fathom that on that bright September morning we would experience the worst terrorist attack in our nation's history, a horrific crime carried out by evil fanatics who would brutally kill the innocent in the name of their distorted cause.
"We came together as a nation on that fateful day and witnessed a tremendous outpouring of courage, compassion and sacrifice amid the grief, the darkness and the disarray," he said. "Since 9/11, millions of Americans have stepped up to serve this great country, all swearing that solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution, and with many paying the ultimate price to ensure that such an attack never happens again."
In his opening prayer, Brig. Gen. William Green Jr., the Army's deputy chief of chaplains, said that 9/11 is "a day unlike any other," and that the 19th anniversary ceremony at the Pentagon was unlike any that had gone before due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Milley and Esper wore black face masks to the ceremony, removing them to make their remarks. There were no choirs and fly-bys of warplanes as had happened in previous years.
Family members and the public were not in attendance, but families were allowed to visit the Pentagon's 9/11 memorial in small groups later Friday.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.