A Special Message from Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez

September 11, 2002

This morning we pause to remember the lives of those who perished on the morning of September 11, 2001.

Whether it was in New York, Washington D. C., or Pennsylvania—all were precious lives. They were sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, grandparents, brothers, sisters, loved ones and friends. They were firefighters and police officers, they were airline pilots and flight attendants, they were Pentagon staff and U.S. military personnel. They were Americans and citizens of 115 nations.

When you are an American, you can be of any color, of any faith, of any origin, of any persuasion. On September 11, most of those who died were Americans. They were our fellow Americans.

That is why today we cease our daily activities to remember people we knew or perhaps never knew. Yet, we shared a common set of goals—to live free, pursue happiness and to chase the dreams that make for a full and meaningful life.

And although we may not have known them as individuals, we really did know them because they were part of the American family. And when you are part of a family, you don’t forget; and that’s why today we remember.

There is little doubt that the attacks of September 11 were the most horrific acts ever witnessed on American soil. Yet, as a nation we have proven that we are resilient and can unite in a time of trouble. From the ashes of 9/11, a new spirit of patriotism and determination has emerged.

We have examined ourselves as a nation and come to the realization that we have much work to do. We must work to eradicate the ignorance that fosters hatred, anger, hostility and ultimately violence. We should teach our children that peace and hope are pursuits that we should all undertake in our daily lives. We should teach them the elements of respect and give them the kind of grounding that translates into values that last a lifetime.

We are not a perfect nation and we are not without our blemishes. But we are a nation that has stood as a beacon of hope for millions who have come here from other places.

As we reflect on the tragic losses of September 11, we should renew our commitment to promote the mission of the Peace Corps—world peace and friendship. In doing so, we honor those who lost their lives and advance the last great hope—peace.

President George Bush has declared today Patriot Day 2002. In part, the Presidential Proclamation states:

“On this first observance of Patriot Day, we remember and honor those who perished in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. We will not forget the events of that terrible morning nor will we forget how Americans responded in New York City, at the Pentagon, and in the skies over Pennsylvania—with heroism and selflessness; with compassion and courage; and with prayer and hope. We will always remember our collective obligation to ensure that justice is done, that freedom prevails, and that the principles upon which our nation was founded endure.”

On the morning of September 11, I, along with two staff members, were evacuees from the east wing of the White House. Most accounts suggest that United Airlines flight 93 may have been destined for the White House. So, it is by the grace of God and the courage of men and women I never met that I stand here today. I will never forget them because they will always be my heroes.

As each of us reflect and remember September 11, 2001, I invite you to join me in resolving to make our nation and the world a more peaceful place. For all eternity, the men and women who perished on 9/11 will be heroes to us all and they will be so because they had a hero’s heart.

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