Thank you, Herb [Giobbi], for your kind words, your leadership, and your commitment to our nation’s police officers and their families.
I am honored to be with all of you here this morning. And I am grateful for the opportunity to pay tribute, as well as my respects, to the 72 officers who – on September 11, 2001 – made the ultimate sacrifice.
Today, as we read the names of these fallen heroes, we also reflect on their lives, their legacies, their courage, and their special calling – a calling to serve others; a calling that’s shared by every member of our nation’s law enforcement community; and a calling that’s firmly founded on the principles of self-sacrifice and personal bravery which were so vividly exemplified by each of these men and women whom we honor here this morning.
Nine years ago today, New York State Court Officer Mitchel Wallace was heading to work in downtown Manhattan. At first, it was just a routine, beautiful autumn morning. But suddenly, the unspeakable – the unimaginable – unfolded overhead. When Officer Wallace looked up, he saw a searing image that none of us will ever forget. And he began running – toward the catastrophe. When Officer Mitchel arrived at the World Trade Center, which was engulfed in flames and flying debris, he called his fiancé. She frantically urged him to stay away. “It’s an attack,” she declared, “not an accident!” But Officer Mitchel had already made his choice. He simply and resolutely responded: “I have to help.”
“I have to help.”
Those four words may not have been said aloud by all 72 officers we honor here this morning. But rest assured, this was the silent mantra that guided each of them on that fateful day – and throughout their lives. Yes, “I have to help” was the simple but profound precept that drove them to choose – without second thought – duty over fear, compassion over caution, and the safety of others over the safety of themselves.
Officer James Lynch was out on sick leave when he heard the horrific news about the Twin Towers. But he did not hesitate. He phoned his co-captain and announced, “I’m going in.”
Officer David LeMagne, barely one year on the job, was at his PATH post in Jersey City. He was told to stay put. But, citing his training as a paramedic, he asked to be sent into the storm.
At the World Trade Center, New York Fire Marshal Ronald Bucca sprinted up 78 flights of stairs – as others around him raced down.
Officer Mark Ellis, just 26, and Officer Ramon Suarez – in his sixteenth year on the force – were not at the World Trade Center when the attacks began. But they flagged down a taxi and raced to the site. They were among the first to arrive. And they were among the dozens of extraordinary officers who, in the face of danger and devastation, responded with courage, resolve and a determination to save lives
And Inspector Anthony Infante made the last decision of his life on that beautiful September morning that had so unexpectedly and inexplicably turned so horrifying – he gave his coat to a stranger, hoping it would provide protection from the surrounding flames.
These are the heroes we remember today. These are the law enforcement officers we will never forget.
My brother, William, is a retired Port Authority police officer. For him, for me, for many of you, and for so many Americans, the engravings on this wall are more than names on a memorial. They are smiles, spirits, personalities, moments, first encounters –and last words. They are personal memories etched forever on our hearts. And they are critical and constant reminders of why the Department of Justice has been – and will continue – working tirelessly to combat terrorism in all its forms, and to hold accountable all those responsible for the September 11th attacks in a manner that is consistent with our nation’s values.
This work goes on. It will always remain my highest priority. That is my solemn promise to all of you. It is also my sacred obligation to the 2,996 Americans we continue to mourn, and to the 72 law enforcement officers we now honor.
Today and beyond, let us carry on their work. Let us build upon their commitment to their fellow citizens and to the principles of justice that define our nation. And let us take their dream – of a world that is better and safer and more just – and make it our own. And let us do so by adopting their watchwords: “I have to help.”
Thank you. May God bless these fallen officers, and may God bless the United States of America.