I know that for all of us here today – and in fact, for all Americans – September 11, 2001 forever changed our world.
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Just as December 7, 1941 – Pearl Harbor Day – defined a generation, September 11 has indelibly shaped who we are, how we live our daily lives and what we believe in.
But unlike Pearl Harbor, in which one nation attacked a military installation, this time an organization of terrorists, not operating under the flag of any one nation, attacked thousands of unsuspecting innocent men and women.
Our sons and daughters; grandsons and granddaughters; husbands and wives; co-workers and friends – who were doing nothing out of the ordinary for a typical Tuesday morning.
Bankers and brokers. Analysts and administrative assistants. Technicians. Designers. Some just starting out in the workplace; some at the apex of their careers.
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Pilots and flight attendants. Vacationers, business travelers and those flying across the country to see friends and family.
And police officers and firefighters, who took an oath to protect and serve the hard-working public no matter how horrific the circumstances.
All of these individuals we remember here today committed no offense against another nation.
They held no ill will towards others. They did not subscribe to dogmatic principles centered around the destruction of those different from them. They were merely going about their daily routine – working hard to provide for their families and to build the life they dreamed of.
I believe that what shocked us the most that morning was not the unthinkably diabolical method used to attack us. Or the scope and magnitude of the attacks.
But that -- it was our way of life that was attacked.
Our way of life that embraces freedom and democracy.
Our way of life that rewards hard work and perseverance, and yet encourages selflessness and generosity.
Our way of life that recognizes and respects varying opinions in society, and still preserves the rights of all to express those opinions.
Our way of life that allows us to worship freely and to look differently.
The United States of America remains one of the most desirable places on this planet to live; not for our oceans and plains, not for our mountains and rivers, not for our cars and homes and technology. But for our freedom.
The attacks on the morning of September 11 provided us with an ugly, painful reminder of the hatred and evil -- the rage and resentment -- which resides in the hearts of some.
In the days after September 11, we were left to console the inconsolable.
In the weeks after September 11, we tried to explain the unexplainable.
In the months after September 11, we tried to make sense out of the senseless.
And even today, eight years after September 11, we strive to find hope in the moments of hopelessness that still haunt us.
Shakespeare said that "Everyone can master grief, but he that has it."
None of us can prescribe to you how long or how deep your grieving process will take. None of us can prescribe to you how to heal your hearts. When we gather here next year, and the year after that, and five years after that, and ten years after that, nobody can promise that you will hurt a little less. Nobody can promise you there will ever be a time when you do not feel the emptiness.
No words, no ceremony, no plaques or stones -- no amount of tears -- will ever replace your losses. And this memorial cannot replace your losses.
But what this memorial can do is to provide you – whether you lost a husband, wife, parent, child, grandchild, brother, sister or friend -- with a solemn place to remember and mourn, to reflect and to move on, each in our own way.
And let this memorial provide all of us here in Suffolk with a daily reminder to take nothing for granted. Appreciate our freedoms. Count our blessings. Strive to help our fellow man. And cherish our friends and families.
And let this memorial serve as a reminder of the American spirit which burns in all of us – that way of life which makes this the greatest nation on Earth.
Our American spirit is defined by our innate ability to reach out and help others, even in times of unthinkable crisis and unfathomable odds.
Just think about the courage of our policemen and firefighters who rushed into two burning towers to bring thousands to safety.
Or the courage of Flight 93 passengers, who resolved to save the lives of perhaps hundreds of other innocent victims on the ground by storming the cabin of their plane.
Our American spirit is defined by our ability to move forward in the aftermath of overwhelming loss, even when it seems easier to quit.
Just think about the countless hours devoted to recovery operations at the World Trade Center and Pentagon sites.
Or the way our Island, our city and our nation resolved to carry on even with a heavy heart – by returning to work and remaining true to our principles of freedom and democracy.
Our American spirit is defined by our ability to rebuild -- stronger and more united in purpose – and our brief history as a nation on this Earth is testimony to that.
From flood and famine; from economic depression and civil unrest; from wars home and abroad; and from these unthinkable, man-made acts of terror – we Americans are steeled by our legacy of determination and resolve.
For the most fitting memorial we can truly leave to the 178 innocent lives lost from our County on September 11 is not etched here in glass today, but etched in our hearts and in our souls as we continue to move forward in the pursuit of happiness, and defense of liberty for all.
Thank you and God Bless America.