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Speeches and Interviews

10th Anniversary of 9/11

September 12, 2011

Thank you all for coming today, to help us commemorate the tenth anniversary of the tragic events which took place in the United States on September 11, 2001. This anniversary is an emotional one for many, particularly the families who mourn the loss of their loved ones and still cannot comprehend why they innocently fell victim to the barbarism of terrorists in New York, Washington, or Shanksville, Pennsylvania. This anniversary also provides those of us who are alive the opportunity to reflect on what happened that day and rededicate ourselves to doing whatever we can -- each in our own way -- to prevent such horrible actions from taking place again.  That is the purpose of our meeting today and the exhibition of photographs you will see on the walls of this gallery.

9/11 is one of those unique days which all of us remember in detail.  None of us will ever forget what we were doing the moment when we first heard of the attack.  Many remember watching on television with horror the second plane hit the World Trade Center, and the collapse of the two towers later in the morning.  Almost 3000 innocent men, women and children from over 70 countries died in the 9/11 attacks.  67 British citizens died that day, 23 from Japan, 15 from Mexico, and the list goes on.  A citizen of Ukraine died, one from Moldova, one from Russia and many others from countries which you represent here today.  411 rescue workers gave their lives trying to save the thousands who escaped the Twin Towers before they collapsed. 

Time and again I am drawn back to the very human stories of courage, sacrifice and love exhibited that day.  It seems that the best way for me to comprehend the enormity of the tragedy of that day is to look at individual victims and their families.  These are heartbreaking stories, but stories with which all of us can identify. The family of our own Political Counselor Colin Cleary knew the pain of 9/11 firsthand.  Colin’s brother lost his fiancé that day. Beth Logler, 31, had just picked out her wedding band.  She died with 657 colleagues in the offices of Cantor Fitzgerald.  Colin, let me extend our special condolences to you and your family today. 

I watched a program on American television last week, which profiled some of the victims who worked in the Windows on the World restaurant on the 107th floor of the north tower.  Among the 76 employees who perished was a sous-chef from Puerto Rico, and a Chef's Assistant from Bangladesh.  His wife, a devout Muslim who still lives in New York with her two children, shared in an interview how much she missed her husband and spoke eloquently about the true non-violent nature of her Islamic faith.   I have been reading over again stories about the last phone calls of people in the airplanes or in the towers after the planes hit.  Facing death, their last thoughts were with their loved ones.  One story I will never forget was about an Hispanic family in New York.  The husband worked in the World Trade Center.  That morning he went to work and his wife went to the laundromat to wash the family clothes. When she heard that the first plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, she tried to call her husband on his cell phone but couldn't get through.  She rushed home and found in the meantime that her husband had called on a land line and talked to their young daughter.  The little girl told her Mommy that her Daddy had called and just wanted to say he loved her.  The little girl reported, "he say, mommy he love you, no matter what happens, he love you."  It was 9:02 AM and he never called again.

So this is not just a day of mourning for Americans, but for the whole world.  As we think about America's acute day of tragedy, our hearts also go out to the families of innocent victims of other terrorist attacks in Nairobi, Bali or Belfast, Mumbai, Tel Aviv or Moscow, London, Lahore, Madrid, or sadly in so many other places.  We honor their memory, and we honor the resilience of their families, their determination to go on and make the best of their lives for themselves and for their children.

I think it is important that we also reflect today on our response to 9/11.  Over the last ten years the international community has worked together to reduce the threat of terrorism.  We have sharply reduced the capabilities of terrorists through our combined efforts.  I know we all remain committed to working together to defeat violent extremists and to address the root causes of the dissatisfactions that can breed terrorism.  The truth is that the terrorists have fundamentally failed to achieve their goals.  People in many nations have shown they are stronger than fear.

In many countries ordinary people are showing that non-violent political change is possible and that violent extremism is not -- as the terrorists believe -- the only way to create enduring political and social change.   We see abundant evidence of resilience everywhere.  Rather than being paralyzed by the violence of a tiny minority, the vast majority of people are focused on pursuing better lives for themselves and their children. They are reaching greater levels of education; creating new economic opportunities; and working to improve their political systems.  Obviously, much more remains to be done.  But we should not ignore what we have achieved or the efforts which are in progress.

On September 11 I was in Washington. I was the American Ambassador to Lithuania at the time and I had flown home to participate in a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House that afternoon between Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and President Bush.  Obviously that meeting was postponed.   I have very poignant memories of evacuating the State Department after the hijacked American Airlines flight 77 hit the Pentagon.  We did not know that United 93 was in the air and headed for Washington, but the fear of more strikes was palpable.  I also remember my overwhelming relief when I called my daughter who worked at a law firm in New York and who had not left on her daily subway ride from Brooklyn under the World Trade Center to her office in midtown.  I was never so happy that lawyers at big law firms start their daily work a bit later than most of us. And I remember calling my wife who was in Lithuania before the phone systems totally failed to tell her that we were all safe.

I remember returning to Lithuania and experiencing the tremendous outpouring of sympathy and solidarity from the people of Lithuania. I know from my staff who have shared memories of that time with me that a similar outpouring of heartfelt condolences and sympathy occurred here in Ukraine.  People were shocked by the senseless attacks.  Many people came to the embassy to write messages, to bring flowers and sign their names in a special book set up for that purpose.

One colleague was traveling in Kharkiv on that day with a group of Americans from Cincinnati. They were in town to open a new American Information Center. As news of the attacks reached them, they were shocked and uncertain. Americans and Ukrainians watched the news on television together at the center, hardly able to believe what they were seeing. As the day went on, many local citizens called or came to the Information Center to express their indignation at the attack and to offer support to the American people.  Having lived in Ukraine for some time now and gotten to know people here, I can easily imagine that kind of reaction coming spontaneously from the people.   I also know that outpouring of sympathy occured in many other capitals all over the world.  That kind of genuine human response is what binds people together and makes us all stronger in the aftermath of tragedy.   We Americans will never forget those gestures of sympathy and support.

We are fortunate today to be able to hold this commemoration here at this Gallery, to show you the photos of Ivan Dudkin, a long time friend of the US Embassy. Mr. Dudkin has traveled throughout the U.S. as a photographer, but he says he was always drawn to and fascinated by the images of the Twin Towers.   His photo exhibit will be open to the public until September 19.  The photos are not of the events of 9/11, but they capture the enduring quality and strength of the city and people of New York, before and after the attacks.  So I want to thank you, Ivan.   I also want to thank Andriy Chebykin, President of the Academy, as well as Vice President Ihor Bezgin and the whole staff for their generosity and partnership in putting this photo exhibit together. 

I want to close with one last thought.  When I returned to Lithuania after the tragic events of September 11, I received a hand-carved statue of a seated, contemplative Jesus Christ.  Those of you who know Lithuania know that statues like this are called Rupintojelis.  They are an important symbol of faith for all Lithuanians.  On the bottom of the statue, the man who carved it and sent it to me wrote the following:  "To the President, the Ambassador and the American people, with knowledge and wisdom you can save the world."  That statue has been on my desk for the last ten years, at every post where I have served.  It remains for me my own personal inspiration. But I think it can be an inspiration for all of us, to help guide all of us as we try to make this a safer and better world.

With that thought, I would ask you now to please join me in a moment of silence to honor all those who perished on 9/11 and their families.

Thank you again for coming.  Please enjoy the exhibition of photographs.   God bless us all.  

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