WASHINGTON — As mourning bells tolled, President Trump marked his first 9/11 anniversary Monday by avoiding talk of politics and paying tribute to those who lost their lives in the fateful terrorist attacks of 16 years ago.
"On that day not only did the world change, but we all changed," Trump said during a ceremony at the Pentagon, one of the targets of hijacked airplanes on Sept. 11, 2001. "Our eyes were opened to the depths of the evil we face."
While Trump has injected politics into previous ceremonial occasions – such as a Boy Scouts Jamboree in July in which the president eschewed tradition to jab the media and political opponents – he kept a somber tone to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11.
The first-year president honored those who lost their lives in the attacks. "We mourn them, we honor them, and we pledge to never, ever forget them," he said.
Members of the crowd could be seen praying. As U.S. flags flew at half-mast at the White House, a bugler played Taps to end the brief ceremony.
Trump, who has loudly criticized the policies of predecessors George W. Bush and Barack Obama over post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, avoided those subjects in his remarks.
Instead, he praised military personnel who are carrying on the fight against terrorism across the globe, and vowed to defeat "horrible, horrible enemies" who threaten the United States.
"Enemies like we have never seen before," Trump said, later adding: "America does not bend. We do not waver. And we will never, ever yield."
Earlier at the White House, the president led his staff in a minute of silence Monday morning, the 16th anniversary of the attacks.
A bell tolled for the dead as the president and first lady Melania Trump stood in prayer on the South Lawn at 8:46 p.m., the minute the first of four hijacked planes slammed into the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.
Some 100 White House staff members, from apron-wearing members of the kitchen staff to top aides in business suits, gathered on the South Lawn for what has become the traditional moment of silence for the victims of 9/11.
Vice President Pence, meanwhile, traveled to a memorial ceremony at a third attack site, the field in Pennsylvania where a plane apparently aimed at Washington crashed as passengers tried to wrest control of it away from hijackers.
At the Pentagon, soldiers draped a flag over the wall hit by another of the hijacked planes. The president and first lady placed a large white wreath at the Pentagon's 9/11 Memorial.
Defense Secretary James Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also spoke at the Pentagon, and warned that battles against terrorism go on, including military conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"We are steadfastly committed to seeing it through, as President Trump has made abundantly clear," Mattis said.
In his remarks, Trump pledged continued federal help for the victims of hurricanes Irma and Harvey, as well as the survivors of 9/11 and the military action that followed it.
Trump also honored the everyday Americans who fell in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
In praising military personnel and first responders who have fought in the years since, Trump said that "our values will endure, our people will thrive, our nation will prevail, and the memory of our loved ones will never, ever die."
The 9/11 anniversary "is an occasion that is extraordinary," Trump said, "and it will always be extraordinary."