President Barack Obama on Sunday marked the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks by calling on Americans to embrace the nation’s character as a people drawn from every corner of the world, from every religion and from every background. He said extremist groups will never be able to defeat the United States.
Obama spoke to hundreds of service members, and relatives and survivors of the attack that occurred at the Pentagon when American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Defense Department’s headquarters, killing 184 people. The youngest victim was only 3 years old.
In all, about 3,000 people lost their lives that day as a result of the planes that crashed into New York City’s World Trade Center and in a Pennsylvania field.
The president said extremist organizations such as the Islamic State group and al-Qaida know they can never drive down the U.S., so they focus on trying to instill fear in hopes of getting Americans to change how they live.
“We know that our diversity, our patchwork heritage is not a weakness, it is still and always will be one of our greatest strengths,” Obama said. “This is the America that was attacked that September morning. This is the America that we must remain true to.”
Obama spoke on warm, mostly sunny morning, noting that the threat that became so evident on Sept. 11 has evolved greatly over the past 15 years. Terrorists, he said, often attempt strikes on a smaller, but still deadly scale. He specifically cited attacks in Boston, San Bernardino and Orlando as examples.
In the end, he said, the enduring memorial to those who lost their lives that day is ensuring “that we stay true to ourselves, that we stay true to what’s best in us, that we do not let others divide us.”
“How we conduct ourselves as individuals and as a nation, we have the opportunity each and every day to live up to the sacrifice of those heroes that we lost,” Obama said.
Obama said he has been humbled by the people whose 9/11 stories he’s come to learn over the past eight years, from the firefighters who responded to the attacks, to family members of those who died, to the Navy Seals who made sure “justice was finally done” in the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. He said the nation’s security has been strengthened since 9/11 and that other attacks have been prevented.
“We resolve to continue doing everything in our power to protect this country that we love,” he said, facing the benches that are a hallmark of the Pentagon Memorial.
Behind the president, a U.S. flag stretching some three stories tall hung on the section of the Pentagon that was struck on Sept. 11. The president said 15 years may seem like a long time, but he imagined that for the families, it can seem like yesterday. He said he has been inspired by their efforts to start scholarship programs and undertake volunteer work in their communities.
“In your grief and grace, you have reminded us that, together, there’s nothing we Americans cannot overcome,” Obama said.
Douglas Smith on the 9/11 anniversary
To talk more about the 15th anniversary of 9/11, Susan Roberts was joined by Douglas Smith. He former Assistant Secretary for the Private Sector at the Department of Homeland Security and has served as advisor for two U.S. presidents.