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State of the Union
President Biden Delivers Remarks at Pentagon to Mark 9/11 Anniversary; Interview With Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Interview With British Ambassador to the United States Karen Pierce. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired September 11, 2022 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The names once again echo through that hallowed ground through that sacred space as we approach that second moment of silence here in just a few moments marking the moment that that second aircraft hit The South Tower here in New York.
DANA BASH, CNN HOST: And 21 years since the family members we're seeing now and every other one in New York reading off their family members names that they have not been with, their father, their brother, their uncle, their daughter, their son, their husband.
SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Dana, I grew up just outside of New York City. And I just recently saw my neighbor who's lived there for decades alongside my parents, he lost his son, on 9/11, Scott Johnson.
He was one of my brother's closest friends. My brother went back and wrote about the family a few years later. But that was a tragedy that changed their family.
BASH: Susan, I want you to continue the story, but, for a moment, we're going to watch President Biden laying a wreath at the Pentagon.
That was President Biden. He's -- you see him there paying tribute, laying a wreath there.
And then, John, I was covering the Capitol, as I mentioned, on 9/11. Joe Biden was the senator from Delaware and a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I don't remember if he was chairman. Was it -- he was chair.
And so I would watch in the days afterwards people like him and others who not just try to figure out how to help the country economically, but most importantly at that moment was try to get a handle on who this was, how and whether and when to retaliates, and, also, were the threats still very viable?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That was the biggest question, I think. Would there be a second wave? They used airplanes to attack the World Trade Center, financial capital of the United States, the Pentagon, the military might.
That third plane, the heroes of Shanksville, that plane headed for the White House or the Capitol to hit our political monuments, if you will, those are the heroes.
BASH: Listen to a moment of silence for the second plane hitting the second tower.
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, please be seated.
BASH: A solemn day for all Americans who lived through 9/11 and will never forget.
Joining me now, former Secretary of State and first lady Hillary Clinton.
She was serving as U.S. senator from New York on September 11, 2001.
Madam Secretary, thank you so much for joining me.
You say September 11 is indelibly etched in your mind. You flew over the smoldering wreckage of the World Trade Center in a helicopter after the attack. What's going through your mind today, 21 years later?
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, Dana, every time we approach September 11, I do think about everything that I saw, all the people that I met, the families of those who lost loved ones.
So, it is indelibly part of my memories. And I feel grateful that we were able to come together as a country at that really terrible time. We put aside differences. I wish we could find ways of doing that again. We rebuilt New York.
We have done our best to take care of the families that lost so much on that terrible day. And we have also, I think, been reminded about how important it is to try to deal with extremism of any kind, especially when it uses violence to try to achieve political and ideological goals.
So, I'm one who thinks that there are lessons still to be learned from what happened to us on 9/11 that we should be very aware of during this time in our country and the world's history.
BASH: You mentioned how the country came together.
I actually want to play a clip of what you told CNN the night of September 11, 2001. You were talking to Jon Karl. I was Capitol Hill producer with him at the time. Listen to what you said about President Bush.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: This was an attack on America. And the president of the United States is our president, and we will support him in whatever steps he deems necessary to take.
We can't let these evil acts in any way deter us from making it clear that the United States is resolute, and we are going to support the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Just listening to that, it is such a striking reminder of how all of America's elected officials really genuinely put party aside and came together after those attacks.
Would that be possible today?
CLINTON: Well, I hope that it will be.
And I give President Biden a lot of credit for trying to continue to reach out to people, while still sounding the alarm about the threats to our democracy.
I remember very well, two days after I gave that interview, being in the Oval Office with then-President Bush, who asked me what we needed. And I told him we needed $20 billion to rebuild New York. And he said, you have got it. And he was good to his word.
And there were all kinds of political conversations about that, but he never wavered. And I wish now that people would come together behind President Biden, who is doing an amazing job trying to rebuild our manufacturing sector, trying to deal with climate change, expand health care, and all the other things, including trying to do something about gun violence, that the vast majority of Americans approve of.
So we are in a funny position, Dana, because there's a small, but very vocal, very powerful, very determined minority who wants to impose their views on all the rest of us. And it's time for everybody, regardless of party, to say, no, that's not who we are as America.
BASH: We are remembering Queen Elizabeth today. Most of us knew her from afar. You actually got to meet her personally, first as first lady. And you stayed with her later at Buckingham Palace when you were secretary of state. You enjoyed her gardens with her.
Can you tell us something about Queen Elizabeth that we wouldn't know, but you got to experience firsthand?
CLINTON: Well, she was an engaging and lively conversationalist. She asked great questions. She was interested in what was going on in the United States, elsewhere in the world.
Another one of my favorite memories is when Bill and I stayed with her and Prince Philip, on the Britannia, what used to be the royal yacht, as we commemorated the 50th anniversary of D-Day. So, we were in close quarters. The queen mother was there. It was just like being with a family that was having a good time together, despite the solemnity of the occasion.
And so, in my encounters with her, I admired her devotion to duty and her sense of obligation to the people of her nation. And she was never wavering from what she said when she first became a very young queen until literally two days before she died, when she received the incoming prime minister.
But I also saw a more playful and somewhat funny and very, incredibly warm side of her as well.
BASH: Well, the world just lost a female head of state who was on the throne for more than 70 years. She lived through 14 U.S. presidents, including your husband, as you mentioned, 15 British prime ministers, seven popes.
In your private moments together, did you ever talk to her about what it's like to be a female leader?
CLINTON: I can't say that I talked at any length.
Sometimes, there would be a wry exchange about how, as a woman leader, you always had to have your hair done. And, of course, she always looked perfect, unlike some of us. She had a sense of style that really stayed with her.
And so I knew that her sense of who she was and the role she played literally governed her life, from every second of it. And I heard an interesting statistic, Dana, which is that nine out of 10 people alive in the world today were born after she became queen.
CLINTON: So, she not only lived through this period, but 90 percent of the people in the world had her as a symbol of a strong, stalwart woman leader.
And yes, the -- as she herself would say, she didn't have the powers that the first Queen Elizabeth did.
CLINTON: She had the -- her role of continuity.
And all of the presidents, all of the prime ministers, everyone that she met, I think, saw that twinkle in her eye, and maybe were lucky enough to exchange pleasantries that went beyond just the official greetings. And that's how I felt. I felt very fortunate to see her in different settings over the time that I knew her as first lady and then secretary of state.
BASH: We're going to have more of my interview with Hillary Clinton at noon Eastern, so tune in for that.
But still ahead, we will bring you President Biden's remarks live.
And, next, the British ambassador to the U.S. joins us to discuss what's ahead for the U.K. after the queen's death, including her funeral and the challenges facing King Charles.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: We are live in Scotland following Queen Elizabeth's journey through the countryside here, the countryside she loved so much.
The hearse carrying her coffin is getting closer and closer to the palace of Holyroodhouse here in Edinburgh, making its way from Balmoral Castle to the official residence of the monarch of Scotland.
Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon with CNN's coverage of the United Kingdom's farewell to the queen.
And I have my colleagues with me here. Richard Quest is in Edinburgh, and Max Foster and Christiane Amanpour are at Buckingham Palace.
Hello once again to my colleagues at Buckingham Palace and Richard Quest here.
We have been watching the coffin and the procession, or cortege, both interchangeable, rolling through the beautiful countryside, the Scottish countryside. This is her final elegant journey.
RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS EDITOR AT LARGE: It is.
And the procession is making good progress now on the main road down the eastern coast of Scotland. And it'll be in Dundee very shortly. And that will be another test. As the day has got longer and older -- it's now quarter past 2:00 in the afternoon -- how many people have come out?
But what we will look for then, after Dundee, a few more cities and villages, before arriving here, where there will be a great deal of ceremony as the coffin is taken from the hearse and then laid to rest overnight at Holyroodhouse.
LEMON: If you have sharp ears, you can hear the crowd is gathering around Richard Quest and I and the horde of media as well who are here to watch this all happen in the capital of Scotland.
QUEST: The crowd -- can I just...
LEMON: Yes. QUEST: What you can see as the car is coming in where in -- as we now
go into the population centers, the crowds are starting to really gather.
LEMON: Yes. Yes, sorry.
And we are keenly aware that there are -- we're marking two different occasions here, connected, of course, but we're mourning the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and we're also marking the proclamation of a new king, King Charles III.
This is really a new era in the monarchy, and it's going to be quite a transition, Christiane Amanpour -- Max Foster, I should say, quite a transition to the new monarchy and also for the United Kingdom, the commonwealth and the realms.
MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's amazing, isn't it, watching these images of people just lining the entire route? Even in the most rural areas of Scotland, we have seen people come out.
And it feels like everyone's coming out. I guess you would as a moment of history, but also showing the dedication of the people of Scotland to the former queen.
In terms of the transition, the big test, of course, is whether or not the king can command such crowds and such loyalty that she commanded. So far, at the very beginning of his reign, he seems to be connecting with a lot more people than I expected.
He's more open. He's less formal. He's really stepping up to the position. But today is very much about the people of Scotland having their moment with the late queen, the hearse heading towards Edinburgh, where you are, where the coffin will rest in the palace of Holyrood, which is -- was the queen's seat, is now the king's seat in Scotland.
And then, of course, there will be a service of remembrance and a vigil at St. Giles Cathedral. But we're really getting our first sense of the public response here.
And for people to come out and stand along the busy road and just to have this moment of history, just imagine what the queue is going to be like outside Westminster Hall when she's lying in state.
So, this is the hearse and the cortege, or the procession, whatever you like to call it, heading from Balmoral to Edinburgh. There is a relatively short procession here, but there's a backup procession as well some way behind. You have got Princess Anne in the car behind and her husband, Timothy Laurence, as the representatives of the royal family.
You have also got the minister from Crathie Church at Balmoral, who the queen was extremely close to and looked to for spiritual guidance throughout the summer when she would reside at Balmoral. And this is the people of Scotland being given a chance really to have their moment.
Between the urban areas -- the cars traveling quite quickly, but in the urban areas, they're slowing down, so people can just catch a glimpse of the hearse draped with the flag, the sovereign's flag, and a bouquet of flowers lying on top as well, which was selected by the queen.
Everything you see here was organized and approved, not organized specifically by the queen, but all approved by the queen and the current king. So this is a deeply personal reflection of how the queen wanted the -- this period of mourning to be reflected to the nation and the world.
And it's amazing all the people who are lining the streets to see her. We have seen farmers in tractors. We have seen people in small towns and farmhouses coming out, some of them waiting for hours. When you get to the bigger cities and the bigger towns, you will see more people, and also people who are driving by.
It's interesting. They didn't close the interstate down or the highway down coming the opposite way. So I imagine there were people who were quite surprised to see the queen's funeral procession headed towards them as they're making their way down the highway on a Sunday afternoon in Scotland.
Listen, there's lots of pageantry, Christiane Amanpour, pomp and circumstance, but this is about so much more than that. And it's even more -- it's more than mourning. This is about the transition, the peaceful transition of power.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Exactly, and also gratitude for the queen's long life and her dedication to service, as she said when she -- even before she took the throne on her 21st birthday, that my promise to you, the people, whether my life long or short, is to serve you throughout my life.
And she did that.
LEMON: I think we're having a bit of an issue with Christiane's microphone.
Christiane, we're having a bit of an issue with your microphone. But we're just going to listen in for a moment.
LEMON: OK, so that was -- we wanted to get that moment in, because we have been watching and listening to the queen.
It's quite -- we can call them her subjects, because that's what -- that's what they are. But there has been -- it's been an outpouring, but mostly applause and silence, not wailing and mourning, as you would -- as you would -- one might think.
Christiane Amanpour, we talked about that, and the reason for that is, she lived a long and prosperous life of service. And this is a natural transition, not a sudden shock of a death or tragedy that was unexpected, quite frankly.
AMANPOUR: Do you know, that's exactly right.
And in terms of the visuals -- and the queen was famous for saying during her reign that they have to see it to believe it. They have to see us to believe us. Hence, so much is public and has been made public under her reign, with the advent of television and all the rest of the media revolution.
Just about all the important things are televised. And there are cameras there and microphones there to say that, while her procession is making its way to the capital of Scotland, here, behind us in Buckingham Palace, people are also flooding to the scene.
It's not just outside the palace itself right now -- well, it is -- because all people are filling the Mall. The huge avenue that leads from the palace, beyond the Victoria statue, down to Trafalgar Square, is packed with people.
So they're also here because the king has been making some journeys back and forth to the -- from the palace to his residence, which is literally about 100, 200 yards' distance. So they're seeing it all happen in real time and in vivid technicolor.
And I think, also, everybody's coming out to say thank you, to shed a tear or to say a prayer, because, as everybody's been saying, almost nobody has been alive, other than under this monarch's reign.
And it's pretty -- it's pretty incredible to see. And she has kept her promises. As her son said, it was not just a life lived well, but a promise with destiny kept. And I think that's what they're reacting to as well.
Yes, not many people in the world, as you were -- we were listening to the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an interview with Dana Bash just moments ago saying, it is believed that nine out of 10 people who are alive today only know this queen, this queen.
So, Dana Bash, a momentous day here in the U.K., really around the world, 70 years on the throne. And that is quite a reign for the late Elizabeth II.
BASH: It sure is, Don.
And here with me in Washington is Britain's ambassador to the U.S., Karen Pierce.
Thank you so much, Madam Ambassador, for coming in. We're sorry for your loss.
DAME KAREN PIERCE, BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Thank you.
BASH: You and I were watching these extraordinary pictures together.
What goes through your mind as you are thinking about the queen making her final journey through Scotland?
PIERCE: Well, thank you, Dana.
Could I just start by expressing sympathy to the American people on the anniversary of 9/11? So, I know this is a very important day for America, and, indeed, those of us who also lost people in 9/11.
And I think one watches the queen, and I feel very emotional, but it's a combination of thinking of a remarkable person coupled with the embodiment, if you like, of British history and the British state and the British people all rolled into one.
I think it is right that she lived a good life. Her service is exemplary 70 years. I think it's very sad to think that has finally come. But, as your presenter said, it's a moment also of renewal. And those twin themes of loss and renewal, I think, go backwards and forwards in people's mind.
BASH: You have been part of Her Majesty's service for a very long time.
BASH: You were ambassador to Afghanistan, speaking of 9/11, ambassador to the United Nations, now, of course, the ambassador here in the U.S.
So many people around the world sort of think they understand what the queen meant to her -- to her subjects. But explain what it is like, as somebody who has served her for so long.
PIERCE: I feel intense loyalty. I think all my colleagues do.
You really look at the queen and think there is nothing you would not be prepared to do for her. Our service is dedicated to her, like the armed forces. But I think one's also conscious of quite how much history she's seen. She has almost defined the era after the Second World War. Every decade, with all its momentous triumphs and defeats, she has been there.
She's met a huge number of world leaders. She's met 13 of the past 14 American presidents, for example. She has just always been there. And, as you look at her, at least what I think of is quite how much history she's seen.
And when you talked to her -- I had the honor to have an audience with her when I went to New York -- she could talk about the beginning of the United Nations, which, as a princess, she'd been at. BASH: What was it like? Talk about some of those private moments, as much as you can.
PIERCE: Well, we have a convention that we don't say what the queen says to you.
But she could not be more warm or better at putting people at their ease. I think everyone goes in very nervous. Certainly, we did. She has a fantastic smile. And she has quite a mischievous sense of humor. At the same time, she has the most phenomenal memory.
She could recall, as I said, the United Nations event, but other events. She could recall meeting President Reagan, for example, and President Biden at Carbis Bay and Glasgow. I had a later conversation with her on the phone. She was incredibly interested in American politics. She studied American history as a child. The master who taught her English constitutional history was actually an American history specialist, so he threw that in for good measure.
She read the embassy's cables. She would talk to me about American politics. And that's an incredible thing, to be able to chat to the queen, who has seen it all, about what's happening in America.
Well, I guess, when you think about the history of America and history of Great Britain, it makes sense that she was interested.
PIERCE: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly.
But she really believed in the friendship.
PIERCE: She was very proud of the fact that values and principles started, if you like, in the Magna Carta had been picked up, she said, very vividly by the founding fathers.
BASH: We're almost out of time.
You are the first female ambassador from Great Britain to the United States. There was a very, very long list of men before you.
Just briefly, what did the queen mean for women and girls in Great Britain and around and -- around the globe?
PIERCE: She was the ultimate figurehead and the ultimate role model. There was no one above the queen.
So, there might be lots of men between you and the queen, but, at the end of it all, there was the queen, which was fantastic. And, in fact, she accepted, I accepted on her behalf, a Ruth Bader Ginsburg Award for Women in Leadership last year, which was also a fantastic honor. She was very pleased to get that.
BASH: Madam Ambassador, thank you so much for coming in. We appreciate it.
PIERCE: Thank you very much.
BASH: And stay with us, as we follow the coffin of Queen Elizabeth en route to Edinburgh.
And we are watching the throngs of mourners out there, you see it, paying their respects.
And also, at the Pentagon, President Biden is getting ready to speak in commemoration of the 9/11 attacks.
It's all ahead. Don't go anywhere.
BASH: Welcome back.
We're following the ceremonies taking place both in New York and at the Pentagon.
We want to pause and listen to the commemoration service happening as we speak at the Pentagon.
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, please stand for the invocation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I invite you to pray with me on this solemn occasion.
Oh mighty God, we thank you for your love and your grace. Thank you for being here with us today. In your mighty name, amen.
Ladies and gentlemen, I now invite you to enjoy a moment of silence with us, as we remember our fallen 21 years ago today in this very place, at 09:37.
BASH: Absolutely beautiful and gut-wrenching, all at the same time.
John King, your reflections.
KING: That was when we knew the scope, when the Pentagon was hit, the two planes -- when the second plane hit the second tower, remember, Andy Card, George W. Bush's chief of staff, walked into that classroom in Florida and says: Second plane has hit the second tower. America is under attack.
Then it was an attack on New York City, on the financial capital of America. I remember being in Lafayette Park when we first saw the smoke coming up across the Potomac River and trying to figure out, what was that?
You're at Lafayette Park, the White House is here. You look over the river, sort of 1:00, 2:00, that's where the Pentagon is. We didn't know at first, but the smoke was coming up. That's when you realized this was an enormous attack. And the questions exploded even more.
It wasn't just New York. It was Washington. It wasn't just the financial capital of America. It was the political and the military capital of America that was under attack.
I lived in an apartment right across the street from the Pentagon in those days. And there was a turret in the building, and it looked out over that hole in the building. And I just remember, those were long days. Every night, you went home from the White House, and you just look out that window and watch the smoke come up and the smoldering come up for days and days and days.
There was remarkable heroism at that site. Barbara knows it better, but even Secretary Rumsfeld among those who were just trying to help people, help heroes on that day.
It's a very touching -- it's a very simple, but very touching memorial on the grounds of the Pentagon. It is worth the walk.
BASH: It is worth the walk.
You talk about the smoke billowing up. I mentioned in the interview with Secretary Clinton that I was at the Capitol on 9/11. I was a producer at the time, and I remember going in as the second plane was -- hit, and the Capitol Police at that time were trying to help me.
They under -- and we know all -- we know it's kind of all a community out there. They knew me. They knew I needed to get to work. And as soon as I hit the up button in the elevator in the Capitol, they evacuated. And it was because the plane had just hit the Pentagon. And people who were in the building who were looking at the West Front of the Capitol could see the smoke coming from across the Potomac River.
And that's when everybody started to evacuate and run, including myself.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The psychological impact of that recognition that it wasn't just New York, it was also the Pentagon, and it could be somewhere else too, is something that we are still living with, I think, as a country.
Everything that we know now is that the threat could be anywhere. And I think, prior to that, I think Americans -- bad things happened in this country prior to 9/11, but the feeling that we could all be at risk was something that was so acute in those moments on that day and in the days and weeks and even years that followed it.
And it's the way that now, when we get on airplanes, our whole experience in an airport has changed. But our whole experience in all facets of our lives have changed. The security infrastructure of this country is now permanent because of 9/11 and this acknowledgment that -- it's sad to say it, but I think we felt it in that moment.
Nobody really felt safe if they were in Washington, or if they were in Atlanta, or they were in San Francisco, or in everywhere in between. And that's what made, I think, 9/11 so different and so searing for this country. You couldn't escape it from sea to sea in this country the feeling of insecurity in that moment.
BASH: No question.
Everybody, stand by. We're waiting for President Biden to speak at the Pentagon just minutes from now. We're going to take it to live.
Our special coverage continues after a quick break.
GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: To honor the fallen of 9/11, to remember and reflect and to reaffirm....
BASH: A day of remembrance on this September 11, as Americans mark 21 years since the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil in history.
We're just moments away from remarks from President Biden at the Pentagon. We're seeing Secretary Austin speak right now.
I want to go to the Pentagon. Barbara Starr is there.
Barbara, your reflections as we wait to hear from President Biden?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm remembering I met Lloyd Austin as an army general on top of a mountain in Afghanistan. He served in combat tours, and very quickly was sent there after the 9/11 attacks.
And where you're looking at the Pentagon right now, a wall of flame on that day. The fire was intensive. It shot up all five floors of the Pentagon, as emergency services arrived and struggled to get the dead and the wounded out of there.
I think it's also worth remembering Don Rumsfeld was secretary of defense that day. Whatever you want to say about how he handled the job in the years after that, on that day, he immediately went to the attack site, and, against the objections of his security team, he stayed, and he started carrying stretchers and assisting there, until they absolutely made him go back inside.
You have heard me say this before. I want to say it again. On that day, the headquarters of the world's strongest military was attacked. And on that day, in this place at the Pentagon, personnel stayed. There was no retreat, no surrender, and they moved ahead with what they knew they would have to do and go against al Qaeda in Afghanistan -- Dana. BASH: Jane Harman, you are joining us now. You were a member of the House Intelligence Committee in 2001. What's going through your mind?
FMR. REP. JANE HARMAN (D-CA): Well, it's a somber day, a day of remembrance and resolve.
And I was in Washington too on that day. I'm in New York, by the way, and just a mile or so from Ground Zero. And my hearts go out not only to all those who were there and their families, but to the firefighters who were climbing up those towers as they were glowing red. It's an amazing sacrifice by first responders here.
But what was going through my mind was, I was walking toward the dome of the Capitol. That is where the House Intelligence Committee rooms were then. I was co-chair of a special subcommittee on terrorism. I had been part of a commission that predicted a major attack on U.S. soil, but nobody was listening.
And when I got to the Capitol, Dana, it was sort of like your experience. They said it was closed. I was outraged that the Capitol of the United States, even if it were a target, would be closed, when the members of Congress take an oath to protect and defend our defense.
And our building is closed. We were all milling around in front. There was no real evacuation plan or continuity of government plan.
BASH: Jane Harman, stand by one second, please.
We're going to listen to President Biden. Then we will get back to you.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Secretary Austin. General Milley.
To all the families and loved ones who still feel the ache, that missing piece of your soul, I'm honored to be here with you once more to share this solemn rite of remembrance and reflect on all that was lost in the fire and ash on that terrible September morning and all that we found in ourselves to respond 21 years ago, 21 years, and we still kept our promise, never forget.
We will keep the memory of all those precious lives stolen from us, 2,977 at Ground Zero in New York and Shanksville, where my wife is speaking now in Pennsylvania, 184 of them here at the Pentagon.
And I know, for all those of you who have lost someone, 21 years is both a lifetime and no time at all. It's good to remember. These memories help us heal. But they can also open up the hurt and take us back to that moment when the grief was so raw.
You think of everything, everything that they could have done if they had lived and just had a little more time, the experience you missed together, the dreams they never got to fulfill or realize. I remember a message sent to the American people from Queen Elizabeth.
It was on September 11. Her ambassador read a prayer of service at Saint Thomas Church in New York, where she pointedly reminded us --
quote -- "Grief is the price we pay for love. Grief is the price we pay for love."
Many of us experience that grief, and you have all experienced it.
And on this day, when the price feels so great, Jill and I are holding all of you close to our hearts.
Terror struck us on that brilliant blue morning. The air filled with smoke, and then came the sirens and the stories, stories of those we lost, stories of incredible heroism from that terrible day.
The American story, the American story itself changed that day. But what we did change -- what we will not change, what we cannot change, never will, is the character of this nation that the terrorists thought they could wound.
And what is that character? The character of sacrifice and love, of generosity and grace, of strength and resilience. In the crucible of 9/11, in the days and months that followed, we saw what stuff America is made, Americans are made of.
Think of all of your loved ones, particularly those on that flight, ordinary citizens, who said, we will not let this stand, risked and lost their lives so even more people would not die. We saw it in the police officers and firefighters who stood on the pile on Ground Zero for months amid that twisted steel and broken concrete slabs, breathing the toxins and ash that would damage their health, refusing, refusing to stop the search through the destruction.
They never stopped, and would not.
We learned about the extraordinary courage and resolve, as I said, of the passengers on board Flight 93, who understood that they were living the open -- they were there in the middle of the open shot of a new war, and who chose to fight back, not professionals, to fight back, sacrificing themselves, refusing to let their plane be used as a weapon against even more innocents.
And here at the Pentagon, which was both the scene of the horrific terrorist attack and the command center for our response to defend and protect the American people, so many heroes were made here. So many of your loved ones were those heroes, began almost immediately, with civilians and service members leaping into action.
As the walls collapsed and the roof began to crumble, they raced into the breach between the fourth and fifth corridors. The impact created by the fire raged at twice the height of this building. I remember. I was a U.S. senator walking up to my office, and I could see the smoke and flames. They were heroes. They went back into those soaring flames to try to
save their teammates. Firefighters battled a blaze of jet fuel long into the fight, pushing past the bounds of exhaustion. Pentagon staff showed up to work on September 12 more determined than ever to keep their country secure.
As I said when I was up on 9/11, we will follow them to the gates of hell to be sure that they're not able to continue. And millions of young men and women from across the nation responded to the 9/11 attacks with courage and resolve, signing up to defend our Constitution and join in the greatest fighting force in the history of the world.
And in the years since 9/11, hundreds of thousands of American troops have served in Afghanistan, Iraq, and so many other places around the world to deny terrorists a safe haven and to protect the American people.
And to all our service members and their families, our veterans, our Gold Star families, all the survivors and caregivers and loved ones who sacrifice so much for our nation, we owe you. We owe you an incredible, an incredible debt, a debt that can never be repaid.
But we will never fail to meet the sacred obligation to you to properly prepare and equip those we send into harm's ways and care for them and their families when they come home, and to never, ever, ever forget.
Through all that has changed over the last 21 years, the enduring resolve of the American people to defend ourselves against those who seek us harm and deliver justice to those responsible for the attacks against our people has never once faltered.
It took 10 years to hunt down and kill Osama bin Laden. But we did. And, this summer, I authorized a successful strike on Zawahiri, the man who bin Laden -- was his deputy on 9/11, who was the leader of al Qaeda, because we will not rest. We will never forget. We will never give up. And now Zawahiri can never threaten the American people, and 20 years after Afghanistan is over, but our commitment to preventing another attack on the United States is without end.
Our intelligence, defense and counterterrorism professionals in the building behind me and across the government continue their vigilance against terrorist threats that has evolved and spread to new regions of the world.
We will continue to monitor and disrupt those terrorist activities wherever we find them, wherever they exist, and we will never hesitate to do what's necessary to defend the American people.
What was destroyed, we have repaired. What was threatened, we have fortified. What was attacked, the indomitable spirit has never, ever wavered. We raise monuments and memorials to the citizens whose blood sacrificed on these grounds and in Shanksville and Ground Zero to keep touch with the memory, keep it bright for all the decades that come. When future generations come here to sit in the shade of the maple trees that shelter the memorial grown tall and strong with passing years, they will find the names of patriots. They will feel the connection that will come to pass on September 11, 2001, and how our country was forever changed.
And I hope they will think about all those of -- all those heroes. There were more in the hours and days and years that followed, ordinary Americans responding in extraordinary and unexpected ways.
I hope we will remember.