More than the stone and water that commemorate those who died at the Pentagon, the lives of survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack are the greatest tribute to those who were lost, President Barack Obama said during the 12th anniversary wreath-laying ceremony for the attacks at the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial Sept. 11.
Surrounded by hundreds of family members and survivors of that day -- when American Airlines Flight 77 struck the northwest side of the Pentagon -- the president, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey offered words of solace to those in attendance.
"From scripture, we learn of the miracle of restoration," Obama said. "'You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again. From the depths of the earth, you will bring me up again. You will increase my greatness and comfort me again.'"
Hearts still ache for the futures snatched away and the lives that might have been, the president said.
"The victims slipped from their loved ones' grasp, but it was written what the heart has once owned and had it shall never lose," he said. "What your families lost in the temporal, in the here and now, is now eternal, the pride that you carry in your hearts, the love that will never die.
Today, we remember not only those who died that September day, we pay solemn tribute to more than 6,700 patriots who have given their full measure since -- military and civilians," the president said. The nation sees their legacy in friendships they've forged, attacks they've prevented, innocent lives they've saved, and in their comrades in Afghanistan who are completing the mission and who, by the end of next year, will have helped to end the war there, he added.
"Let us have the wisdom to know that, while force is at times necessary, force alone cannot build the world we seek, so we recommit to the partnerships and progress that builds mutual respect, and deepens trust, and allows more people to live in dignity, prosperity and freedom," the president said.
"Let us have the confidence and the values that make us Americans, which we must never lose, the shining liberties that make us a beacon of the world, the rich diversity that makes us stronger, the unity and commitment to one another that we sustain on this National Day of Service and Remembrance," Obama said. "And above all, let us have the courage, like the survivors and families here today, to carry on no matter how dark the night or how difficult the day."
Hagel began his remarks by noting the significance of the timing and location of today's observance.
"Twelve years ago, at this hour, in this place, a horrific act of terror claimed 184 innocent lives," he said.
"We comfort the loved ones they left behind who still mourn and grieve, despite the passage of time," the secretary continued. "And our thoughts turn to others whose lives [were affected] by the fateful events that clear September morning, the first responders and survivors whose heroism we celebrate, the Pentagon personnel who came to work the next day with a greater sense of determination than ever before, and the men and women in uniform who have stepped forward to defend our country over 12 long years of war, bearing incredible sacrifices, along with their families."
In all of those men and women, the strength, resilience, and the sense of purpose that have always defined the United States of America is evident, he said.
"And that, too, is what the American people reflect upon today, for it is in these timeless qualities that we find hope for a better world and a better future," Hagel said.
Dempsey noted that at the point of Flight 77's impact, the Pentagon halls are lined with handmade quilts created by people from all around the country to "honor the selfless efforts" of responders and ordinary Americans who came to the rescue that day.
"And they wanted to affirm that our nation's fallen would be forever sewn into our hearts," he added.
Sept. 11 is a day that always will stand apart in the nation, the chairman said, "not because of what we say up here about service and selflessness and sacrifice, courage and character."
"It's something more," he said. "It's what those things say about us as Americans. No acts of terrorism can strike who we are. Nothing can steal away that for which we stand."