Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday that the legacy of the 9/11 terror attacks imbued in the nation a duty to confront threats worldwide.
Without mentioning Syria by name, Hagel made an inference at the Pentagon’s commemoration on the 12th anniversary of 9/11 the consequences of not acting if the face of threats.
The hijacked planes that were turned into missiles taught the U.S. “critical lessons” on the need to stand vigilant and ready to respond, Hagel said.
“These are not easy times, these are complicated times,” Hagel said. "We must take action, but wise action, to defend the interests of our country.”
Earlier, President Obama laid a wreath amid the simple elegance of the Pentagon Memorial, where 184 cantilevered benches honor those who died when American Airlines Flight 77 smashed into the west wall of the building at 347 mph on Sept. 11, 2001, at 9:37 a.m.
Obama said he came “to honor the greatness of all who responded and to stand with those who still grieve and to provide them some measure of comfort once more.”
"[The victims] left this Earth," Obama said. "They slipped from our grasp. But it was written, ‘What the heart has once owned and had, it shall never lose.’”
To the families and the survivors, Obama said that “in your resilience, you have taught us all there is no trouble we cannot endure and there is no calamity we cannot overcome.”
Both Obama and Hagel also paid tribute to the more than 6,700 Americans, military and civilian, who have died in service to the country since 9/11, and Obama made brief mention of the four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who were killed in the terror attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11 last year.
“We pray for all those who have stepped forward in those years of war -- diplomats who serve in dangerous posts, as we saw this day last year in Benghazi, intelligence professionals, often unseen and unheralded who protect us in every way -- our men and women in uniform who defend this country that we love,” Obama said.
As Obama spoke, reports were coming in of yet another 9/11 attack in Benghazi. A powerful car bomb had gone off near Libya’s Foreign Ministry building in Benghazi. There were no major casualties but several passers-by were slightly wounded, the Associated Press reported.
The building once housed the U.S. Consulate during the rule of King Idris, who was overthrown in 1969 by the late dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Later, in the Pentagon courtyard with Hagel, Gen. Martin Dempsey spoke of the 9/11 victims at the Pentagon ranging in age from three-year-old Dana Falkenberg to 71-year-old John D. Yamnicky, a Navy veteran.
Both Falkenberg and Yanmicky were among the 64 killed aboard Flight 77, which slammed with such force into the Pentagon wall between Corridors 4 and 5 that the nose of the plane vaporized, sending a fireball of jet fuel through the E and D Rings. It was over in eight-tenths of a second, Dempsey said, “and 184 lives were stolen,” including 55 military personnel and 70 civilians inside the building.
Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the crowd in the courtyard to remember the victims and also to remember those who ran toward the flames to help, rather than seeking safety. “Therein lies your legacy,” Dempsey said. “It’s one of passion, courage and community.”