"The terrorists who attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, sought not just to take the lives of U.S. citizens and crumble buildings; they hoped to break America's spirit," Vice President Mike Pence said at the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial observance. "They failed," he said.
"The American people showed on that day and every day since, we will not be intimidated," the vice president said. "Our spirit cannot be broken."
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva hosted Pence for the annual remembrance for families and friends of those who fell at the Pentagon.
Seventeen years ago, terrorists flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon. One hundred eighty-nine people perished — 125 service members and civilians working in the building, and 59 men and women and children aboard the flight.
The losses at the Pentagon, combined with those at New York City's World Trade Center and in a field crash site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, totaled 2,977 men, women and children.
A special burden
"To the families of the fallen gathered here and all those looking on, the cherished final moments you shared with your loved ones no doubt seem like just yesterday: a goodbye kiss, a tender embrace, or one last wave," Pence said.
"Just know that your nation understands that, while we all suffered loss that day, we know you bear a special burden," he added. "But we gather here in the shadow of the building where your loved ones departed this life to say that you do not bear that burden alone. The American people stand with you and we always will."
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, honor the flag during a 9/11 ceremony at the Pentagon, Sept. 11, 2017.
(DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro)
The vice president said that even before the smoke cleared and the fires were put out, Americans began to answer the call and step forward to serve the nation.
"It's amazing to think in the 17 years since that day, nearly 5.5 million Americans volunteered to serve in the armed forces of the United States," he added. "Those courageous men and women turned a day of tragedy into a triumph of freedom."
Hatred will not prevail
Mattis told the families and friends of victims that, "[In] the shadow of our rebuilt Pentagon, we are all part of your larger family. We stand with you every day in honored tribute of the fallen, of your loved ones."
In that spirit, the secretary added, "this morning we commit ourselves to remembering and honoring the lives that might have been. We keep faith with the innocent who perished. We take solace in their deaths were not in vain, for in their passing they empowered us forever with our enduring sense of purpose. And we remember that hatred disguised in false religious garb to murder innocents will not prevail."
We remember the bravery and sacrifice of those who fell here in America, and then on far-flung battlefields, he said.
"We salute the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen and Marines who nailed our colors to the mast, giving their last full measure of devotion, declaring proudly that Americans do not scare," Mattis said.
Strength and resilience
Together with the families of the fallen, we remember all that is good, true, and beautiful about those we have lost, "And if we remember them, if we honor them by living as they would have us live, if we in the Department of Defense do our best every day to protect America's promise to the world, then we keep our promise to them and to ourselves and to future generations," the secretary said.
Selva told the audience that the ceremonies across the country, "inspire us to reflect not only on the nation's strength and resolve after those brutal attacks, but also on the strength and resilience of individual people who continue to carry on, even to thrive, in spite of the pain of losing a loved one."
The vice chairman said all should take comfort in knowing that those who died imparted a legacy of selfless service, courage and patriotism, and a belief in the high ideals, all of which continue to inspire a new generation of grateful Americans who have answered the call to serve.
"So today, let us reaffirm the commitment that as long as we have breath to breathe, our military members will defend this nation," the vice chairman said. "We will ensure that future generations of America are able to enjoy the same freedoms and liberties that we inherited."
This article originally appeared on the United States Department of Defense. Follow @DeptofDefense on Twitter.