Sep 10, 2021
Antony Blinken Commemorates 9/11 Attacks Speech Transcript 2021
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken commemorated the September 11 attacks during a speech on September 10, 2021. Read the transcript of his speech remarks here.
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Speaker 1: (00:24)
Today we come together to honor the nearly 3,000 people who were killed in the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. We joined families all over the world that lost their loved ones in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. It is a day that many of us will never forget, one of those powerful historic moments where you knew exactly where you were and what you were doing the moment you learned of the attacks.
Speaker 1: (01:00)
It is equally important to recognize how much the world has changed the moment American Airlines flight 11 struck the North Tower on that clear Tuesday morning. Not only did it mobilize the will of America, it galvanized people in nations around the world toward the common goal of denying terrorism a safe haven. Before returning to the Department of State in 2009, I served both in the US Air Force and Naval Reserves for 22 years and as counsel on the 9/11 commission.
Speaker 1: (01:41)
It was both my duty and responsibility as an American and a New York native to be able to join others on the commission, to tell the story of 9/11 as best we could and of those we honored today who lost their lives or those who continue to suffer the impact of these heinous attacks on their everyday existence. Before beginning our program, I would first like to ask that we stand and take a moment of silence in remembrance of all those who lost their lives and their loved ones still in mourning. Thank you.
Speaker 1: (02:43)
I hope that the voices we hear this morning will convey the many ways in which members of our community have been impacted by the 9/11 attacks on a personal level. On this day, like every year, we stand strong, we stand united. You will now hear several personal reflections. First, from Deputy Assistant Secretary Chris Gou from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, followed by Shahzard Turner, the president of Veterans At State, Ambassador Matthew Klemow, who was serving in the Pentagon on 9/11. And finally, our own Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. Deputy Assistant Director Gou, without further ado, please take the [inaudible 00:03:43].
Chris Gou: (03:52)
On the morning of September 11, 2001, a booming vibration shook the 26 Federal Plaza Building in New York City, where I was having breakfast with colleagues from the Diplomatic Security Service, New York field office. Special Agent Dean Simpkins, who was staring out the window, turned to us and said, “The World Trade Center is on fire.” We looked in disbelief at the smoke pouring out of tower one and paper sailing through the sky like confetti. We rushed back to the office to report what we saw to New York field office leadership and found the entire office trying to make sense of what just happened. Moments later, assistant special agent in charge, screamed into the office public address system to instruct everyone to evacuate the building immediately and assemble at a designated rally point.
Chris Gou: (04:53)
The second plane has slammed into tower two. The building staircase was crowded with federal employees, visitors, and contractors. Some struggled with the physical exertion of descending 34 flights of stairs and friends and colleagues supported one another. Faces were tense, nervous, and unsure with an occasional forced smile to calm oneself and colleagues. People fill the streets around the federal building. Most stood and stared at the two burning towers. A few sobbed quietly. Emergency vehicles raised toward the World Trade Center. Fire engines, police cars, ambulances, heroes, running toward danger with a consideration of their own safety.
Chris Gou: (05:48)
I tried calling my wife and my parents, but I had no cell phone signal. As a law enforcement professional in the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service and a native new Yorker, I was eager and anxious to join the rescue effort, but I’ve felt helpless and angry standing on the street. I had just fought inwardly to help repair and rebuild New York City when I watched in total disbelief as the first tower crashed onto the streets below.
Chris Gou: (06:28)
DSS leadership instructed me to leave the Island of Manhattan and wait on standby for a week long duty assignment to help at ground zero. I raced home to ensure my parents were safe. And I tried to locate my wife who was working one block from the World Trade Center. She arrived home in the late afternoon, covered from head to toe in World Trade Center building dust. She barely escaped with a coworker during harrowing evacuation on foot that took them across Manhattan and into Queens via the 59th street bridge. They embraced and cried at having survived. But my wife’s coworkers, Brother Mike, was not so fortunate. He was a New York City firefighter. And one of those heroes who rushed towards the burning buildings before they fell.
Chris Gou: (07:21)
I served at ground zero a week later, along with 52 diplomatic security service special agents who ended up joining the massive surge of first responders who rushed to assist aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center. My World Trade Center. 23 DSS New York Field Office Agents, and additional two support personnel work alongside dozens of special agents from DSS, satellite, and field offices up and down the east coast. Agents delivered gasoline to fuel generators, transport exhaustive firefighters and doctors, and escort emergency rescue equipment through tunnels, closed to general traffic. DSS also expedited getting copies of World Trade Center blueprints from outside of the region to the site, transport Department of Energy and FEMA personnel to critical meetings, and delivered critical evidence to the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force for analysis.
Chris Gou: (08:27)
In December 2001, foreign dignitaries port into New York City for the UN general assembly. And every one of them wanted to pay their respects at ground zero and at local fire stations. Every stop brought back that terrible day and reminded me of those exhausted and grieving firefighters, police officers, and EMTs. Let us never the families of the over 3,000 victims. The 412 emergency workers who climbed those stairs with heavy shoulders and determined faces while others fled to safety. Those DSS agents who volunteered at ground zero and some whom have become ill from toxic dust they inhaled. The survivors and witnesses like my wife, who still can’t talk about that day without choking up. And heroes like Mike, let us never forget. Thank you. And now I’m honored to introduce Shahzard Turner, the president of Veterans At State.
Shahzard Turner: (09:48)
Shahzard Turner: (10:13)
Shahzard Turner: (10:14)
Sorry. I’m having technical difficulties. Would it be possible to go to the ambassador next?
Speaker 5: (10:30)
Speaker 1: (10:33)
Yeah, we can come back to Shahzard if you’re having some problems. We have the ambassador. Would you like to speak next? Are you ready?
Matthew Klemow: (10:40)
Of course. I’m happy to.
Speaker 1: (10:41)
Matthew Klemow: (10:43)
Mr. Secretary, Under Secretary Jenkins, fellow diplomats, and veterans. Greetings from Ashgabat. 20 years ago, I was a Colonel in the United States Army serving in the Pentagon as the executive assistant to General Richard B. Meyers, the 15th chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. Among the harrowing sights and sounds and smells that linger with me to this day, there’s one vignette that I want to share with you. It’s not a story of despair, but one of the American spirit and determination that we in the state department show every day when we go to work.
Matthew Klemow: (11:25)
At 10:50 AM, slightly over one hour after flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon, I was in the smoke-filled national military command center deep in the heart of the Pentagon. Six of us were in a sealed skiff, including General Myers and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. President Bush had convened a conference call of key leaders in Washington.
Matthew Klemow: (11:53)
The president came on the line and he was sure footed, confident, and unflappable. And I could remember well, his exact words, when he began to speak. He said, “I want everyone who could hear my voice to know that no faceless thugs will hold our country at bay. I want you to find out who did this. I want you to track them down and I want you to destroy them.” Someone on the conference call uttered a profanity about Osama Bin Laden, but the president came right back on and said, “Now, wait a minute, first, get the facts. Second, clean up your language.” It was the perfect retort. It broke the tension. We all laughed. But as the call went on, I began to feel lightheaded. I couldn’t concentrate. I thought I might pass out.
Matthew Klemow: (12:44)
The admiral sitting next to me shook my arm. And he said, “Listen, I’m an old submariner. I know what’s happening. We need to get everyone out of here. There’s no oxygen in the room. It’s filling up with carbon dioxide.” The admiral said he would look for an alternate command center where we could relocate everyone. And he asked me to find an air monitor to measure the oxygen levels. Well, I was an infantry officer. There may be air monitors in a submarine, but where to find one in the Pentagon. So like any good infantry colonel, I called for my captain, Chris Donahue. “Chris, go find an air monitor.” And to my amazement, he soon returned with the Arlington County Fire Department air quality expert, who said that our oxygen levels were hovering around 16%. And at 13%, we needed to evacuate the building. He said, “You need to get out.”
Matthew Klemow: (13:45)
I broke the news to General Myers and Secretary Rumsfeld who conferred. And they said, “We cannot leave.” The Pentagon is the symbol of America’s military power. And then something remarkable happened. He turned to me and pointed at Chris Donahue and myself. And he said, You two, get the word out. Tomorrow is a normal work day at the Pentagon. Everybody gets to work on time as usual.” And that is the point of my remarks today. Let us remember, not only 9/11, let us remember 9/12, the 12th of September, 2001, because quite simply the day after 9/11, we got back to work with a renewed spirit of determination. President Harry S. Truman said, “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination, and on unbeatable determination.” We can have that spirit again today. We need that spirit today. Let that spirit of determination be what we hold to and what we take from this day of remembrance.
Matthew Klemow: (15:00)
That, and the fact that life is a precious gift. And we ought to spend what time we have on earth in pursuit of a noble purpose. So on this day of remembrance, let us commit ourselves with that same determination we felt on 9/12 to that spirit of what we need to do to make our talent, hard work, and spirit build America. If we commit to those things today, with that kind of determination after the tragedy of 9/11, we will be living up to our own full potential. And finally, I hope that you recognize the name of that intrepid captain Chris Donahue, now major General Donahue, commanding general of the 82nd airborne division and the last American soldier to depart Kabul. Thank you for letting me join you today. Please come to Ashgabat. We’ll be thinking of you today and always. God bless.
Speaker 1: (16:06)
Thank you very much, ambassador. Shahzard, are you able to connect now?
Speaker 1: (16:18)
I think you’re still on mute there.
Speaker 1: (16:36)
Well, Shahzard, if you can keep working on it, but for sake of time, I think we’re going to move forward. I’d like to introduce, of course, our Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken: (16:46)
Good morning, everyone. And thank you all so much for being here today. It is an honor to join today’s speakers to mark the 20th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. I have to say to both the ambassador, to Chris, thank you for your powerfully evocative remarks. I think in different ways, both of you brought us back to that day, brought us back to what so many of us were feeling, and brought us back to a remarkable spirit that actually joined us and united us in ways that I think we can find inspiration in for every day going forward.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken: (17:43)
We come together first and foremost to honor the people we lost on that horrific day, nearly 3,000 men, women, children in New York, in Arlington, in Shanksville. For their loved ones, the pain from the loss began on 9/11. They felt it every day since. Some members of our community lost family and friends that day. Our hearts go out to all of you.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken: (18:16)
Every one of those losses sent ripples that radiated outward. The stories of those who died were told around the world. Restaurant workers on breakfast shifts, kids flying to Disneyland, firefighters and police officers who, as we all know, ran into the building after the planes hit. People from more than 90 countries lost their lives that day. Every one of them someone’s child, someone’s parents, someone’s sibling, someone’s friend. Chris Gou’s account is so vivid and painful. For many of us, even if we weren’t in New York or Virginia that day, even if we were on the other side of the world, it felt somehow deeply personal. And I think it still does.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken: (19:08)
For those of you who were working at the state department, the memories are just as vivid. Some of you were in the building that day. You evacuated and saw the smoke rising from the Pentagon. For a while, people thought that there could be a car bomb nearby and DS agents made sure that everyone got out. You showed up for work the next morning, as we heard, not yet fully knowing what had happened or what would be required of you in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead, but ready to do whatever your country asked of you. Around the world, we saw people come forward to show their extraordinary solidarity and empathy. They congregated outside our embassies, consulates, praying, singing, crying.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken: (20:08)
They left handwritten notes, flowers, candles, drawings, momentos. Outside our embassy in Sydney, the New South Wales rural fire service left a helmet that their firefighters had signed for American first responders. And it read to all stations, come home safe. In Ethiopia, so many people left flowers at the base of the embassy’s flagpole, that that pile of flowers rose a third of the way up the flagpole.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken: (20:40)
Amid the hundreds of letters and signs left outside Embassy Berlin was a handwritten note that read Kennedy said, “I am a Berliner. We say we are Americans.” As we saw that day, our allies and partners commitment to us and ours to them is a sacred bond that goes much deeper than relationships between governments. It’s a bond our peoples have built over many generations. 9/11 was to understate one of the darkest days in our history. But out of it also came these demonstrations of profound humanity, compassion, strength, and courage. Above all, it showed our remarkable resilience. It showed our capacity to defend the pluralism that has long been one of our country’s greatest strengths, including by embracing our Muslim American brothers and sisters.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken: (21:38)
It showed the risks that so many are willing to take, to save the lives of complete strangers. So today, we remember all of that and more. We’ve also come together today because maybe more than any other event in our lifetimes, 9/11 shaped the trajectory of our country and how we engage in the world. It motivated an entire generation to pursue lives of service. Some became journalists, lawyers, human rights defenders, others volunteered for the military. Hundreds of thousands went on to serve in Afghanistan. 2,641 service members gave their lives in that conflict, including 13 men and women who were killed in a terrorist attack a few weeks ago, as we brought that war to an end.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken: (22:26)
More than 20,000 of those service members were injured. Many with invisible wounds. We’re humbled by the sacrifices that they made. And we know that for veterans in particular, as I know Shahzard Turner was going to tell us, this anniversary will be an especially emotional one, inspiring both pride, but also pain. September 11th also inspired a generation of people to join this institution. The State Department. Those new officers walked into this building I think having some sense of how hard the work would be, how much we were up against, how vital it was that they succeed.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken: (23:11)
But of course, a full appreciation for all of that came with time, came with experience, came with engagement. But from day one, they threw themselves into the challenges with total commitment. Looking around this department today, we can see how the attacks changed us and changed our diplomacy. Thousands of diplomats served in Afghanistan and Iraq, and elsewhere in support of the war against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Thousands more served in new bureaus and roles that didn’t exist before the attacks, like counter-terrorism, conflict, and stabilization. Virtually every part of the department was mobilized in some way to play a role in preventing another 9/11, critical work that many of us continue to this day. Cherished members of our foreign service gave their lives to these efforts. Today, we honor them as well.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken: (24:11)
Part of our job, part of our responsibility as diplomats is to perpetually reflect on how we engage with the rest of the world and to ask some very basic questions. Are we making our nation safer, more secure? Are we advancing our interests? Are we living up to our values? Are we focusing too much on some threats and not enough on others? Are we missing opportunities? We were asking those questions then.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken: (24:45)
We have a responsibility to continue asking them now and to more effectively tackle the challenges that we face today to try and see around the corner to the crises and challenges of tomorrow, to make sure we’re doing all we can to deliver for our fellow citizens. Whether you’re a part of the team that was there when the attacks occurred, whether you joined because of those attacks, or whether you came here for some other reason altogether, what we all have in common is the deep down we feel a calling to try to do right by our fellow Americans, to try to make their lives just a little bit more secure, a little bit more prosperous, a little healthier, with a little more opportunity.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken: (25:31)
And we want to engage the world in a way that makes their lives and our lives and the world better. Wherever we serve, whatever the challenge or crisis, we’ve chosen diplomacy as our tool to make that world a little bit better. You have to be 20 years old to register for the foreign service officer test. So what does that mean? It means that starting tomorrow, the first volunteers born after 9/11 will start the process of becoming foreign service officers. I can’t wait to welcome them to this community. They will help make the state department even stronger, more diverse, and more ready to take on the challenges of our time.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken: (26:19)
And hearing from foreign service officers and civil servants who were serving September 11th, one thing they often talk about is how, no matter how wrenching and terrifying those first moments and first days felt, they appreciated that they were in a place to do something about it. And it goes back to what Chris was saying. At first, I think so many of us had a feeling of helplessness, but then, then that instinct that brings us together really clicked in and we realized we could do something. And those of us in this community did do something. They appreciated, we appreciated that we were in a place to do something about it. We had jobs, they had jobs where they could help their fellow citizens and their country in ways both immediate and lasting. That’s an extraordinary privilege. And it’s one that all of us in this department have right now as well. So on this day of all days, we remember that privilege and the responsibility, as well as the opportunity that comes with it. Thank you very much.
Speaker 1: (27:43)
Thank you as the secretary for your words. Thank you for our other speakers and to Shahzard Turner who wasn’t able to speak. We also thank you for your service. And we also thank those individuals, our embassies overseas, who are also commemorating this day. I also want to thank all of you for coming and coming together today in service and in remembrance. As we all return to work, let us hold the spirit of this day in our hearts and honor the memory of the fallen in our words and in our actions. That concludes our program. Thank you for your time and attention on this solemn day.