'Terrorists eclipsed by community of heroes'
- US Ambassador Harry K. Thomas JR. () - September 12, 2011 - 12:00am

(Remarks delivered at Elks' Club Lodge, Makati, Sept. 11, 2011)

MANILA, Philippines - Thank you for inviting me to speak with you on this very important anniversary. It is a good day to be among friends, so I am grateful to the Elks Club, an organization with a long history of benevolent service, for hosting this event. I would also like to recognize all of our partners here today: our Philippine friends, as well as my esteemed colleagues from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Japan, and the Republic of Korea. We are a small representation of a global community that stands together today to remember the harm caused by a heartless few, and to honor the heroism of many.

In my father’s generation, every American knew where he was, and when he heard, about the attack on Pearl Harbor. I am now part of a generation that can remember, vividly, what was happening when the first plane struck the World Trade Center. We are all now part of a generation that viewed those searing images – the second plane striking the World Trade Center, the crash of United Flight 93, the plane hitting the Pentagon, and the collapse of the twin towers.

On September 11, 2001, I was working in the White House. A brilliant, sunny day clouded quickly as we scrambled to assess the first plane crash. Like all of you, we were shocked as details emerged about a second plane hitting the World Trade Center, clearly indicating the United States was under attack. This was confirmed after a third plane crashed into the Pentagon. We could only wonder what more might follow. What I remember is not panic, but determination – to rescue the wounded, to evacuate the vulnerable, to prevent further attacks. I remember as well the support we received from other nations, immediately.

Canada, for example, helped scramble the military planes that secured our skies, and gave temporary home to travelers diverted from landing in the US. The world, and world opinion, quickly rallied in face of such heartless attacks.

The losses were high. Thirteen people from the county where I was living at the time were killed in the Pentagon. As a proud native New Yorker, I will never forget the image of the two towers of the World Trade Center, an icon, disintegrating into ashes and taking with them the lives of almost three thousand civilians, including citizens of every country represented here today.

And while today we gather on the anniversary of September 11, 2001, let me ask us to remember as well other terrorist attacks in Nairobi, in Dar es Salaam, in Madrid, in London, in Bali, in the Middle East, and of course in the Philippines. Each has had an immediate impact of grief and loss. But in the minutes, days and months after an attack, we find courage, determination, and commitment are the lasting consequences.

And here, for me, is the lesson of 9-11 and every attack that has come before or after. A handful of people can plan and perpetrate an attack – but they are eclipsed by the vast community of heroes they leave in their wake. For me, now, the iconic moments of 9-11 aren’t planes crashing into buildings. What I remember are the hundreds of fellow human beings helping total strangers through the blinding smoke. I admired the ingenuity of window cleaners using their equipment to unblock elevator doors. I applauded the store owners handing out water and shoes to New Yorkers facing a long walk home. I cheered the firefighters, police officers, and military pouring into a building that everyone else was running away from, in an effort to save lives. And of course, I saluted the passengers on United Flight 93, who realized what the hijackers meant to do, and forced the plane to crash to prevent another attack.

I also admire the courage of those who have survived terrorist attacks and who dedicate themselves to rebuilding a better world. We have only to look here in Tondo to Marie Rose Abad village, a neighborhood of 50 houses built in memory of a 9-11 victim by her loving husband, Rudy. Rudy said, “It was the tragedy that opened up your eyes, that makes you want to do something far and beyond.”

Rudy wasn’t the only one inspired. A thousand private foundations across the globe have flourished in the ashes of terrorist atrocities, each one dedicated to selfless good. Millions of people around the globe have proudly assumed the responsibility of keeping our communities safe, whether it’s by taking their shoes off in the airport, reporting an unattended bag on a busy city sidewalk, or even informing police about a family member who has taken a dark path.

As a community of nations we are determined that the principles and values we live by will not be upended by cruel acts. Working together we have reduced the threat of terrorism. We cannot prevent every terrorist act, but together we have blunted their capabilities and debunked their pretentions of serving a higher ideal. We remain grateful for the determination of our partners, especially here in the Philippines, and very mindful of their sacrifices.

I carry with me the courage of the rescuers and survivors, the determination of our friends and allies, and finally, a commitment to the future. I left the White House September 11 deeply moved by what I had seen that day, and glad to be alive at the end of it. I carry with me every day the commitment to help build a world of open doors and open hearts, a world where opportunity is not a function of wealth, race, religion or gender but is available equally to all.

I live convinced that each one of us can make a difference if we try. Our choice is to make a positive difference, and that for me is the final, important lesson of September 11.

I will not call for a moment of silence. Instead I ask us all to think of someone lost to an arbitrary act of violence. In their memory, today, let’s commit to an act of selfless service so that their spirit and memory is honored. Let us be glad we have the opportunity to bring positive, peaceful change to the world, and commit ourselves to that effort anew, on this somber occasion. Many thanks.

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