President Joe Biden on Sept. 11 urged Americans to never forget the evil that they witnessed when Islamist terrorists attacked New York 22 years ago.
In a speech delivered to U.S. service members at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska, the president said: “I join you on this solemn day to renew our sacred vow: Never forget. Never forget. We never forget. Each of those precious lives [was] stolen when evil attacked.”
President Biden recalled observing the wreckage of the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan on Sept. 12, 2001, saying that it seemed as though he was looking into hell itself.
Because of that, he acknowledged, it can be difficult for many to remember the horror of the day.
“I felt like I was looking through the gates of hell. It looked so devastating,” President Biden said.
A Break With Custom
President Biden’s decision to hold his speech in Alaska instead of at one of the attack sites is a departure from what’s now considered customary for the annual remembrance speech, though both Barack Obama and George W. Bush delivered one such speech from the White House.
It’s unlikely that he could have reached one of the attack sites in time to deliver a speech.
He noted that fact, and underscored that the Alaskan joint base had scrambled fighters on the fateful day to help escort jetliners amid a chaotic shutdown of U.S. airspace.
“Though this military base isn’t located on ground zero, we know that distance did not dull or diminish the pain we felt all across the nation on Sept.11,” President Biden said.
“We know that on this day, every American’s heart was wounded.”
Biden Calls for Unity, Resolve
The 9/11 attacks were the most deadly assault on U.S. soil since the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, which killed more than 2,400 Americans.
The attacks struck the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon and cost the lives of all the passengers on board Flight 93 when they turned on their hijackers over Pennsylvania.
Nearly 3,000 people were killed on 9/11, with many more since dying from exposure to toxic smoke or to elements of the crumbling buildings; or as part of the subsequent global war on terror.
Despite such brutality, President Biden said, the ideals of America’s founding remain intact.
“Those terrorists could not touch what no force, no enemy, no day ever could. That is the soul of America,” he said.
“The soul of America is based on a sacred proposition. That we’re all created equal, endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
“We haven’t always lived up to it, but we’ve never walked away from that proposition either.”
To that end, President Biden urged the American people to seek unity and common purpose with one another despite their differences.
The future of the republic, he said, depends on the capacity of its citizens to remain united as a whole, leaving none behind.
“American democracy depends not on some of us, but on all of us,” he said.
“Let us honor Sept. 11 by renewing our faith in one another. Let us remember who we are as a nation. We never forget. We are never afraid. We endure. We overcome. We are the United States of America … and nothing has been beyond our capacity when we set our mind to it together.”
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.