In his remarks at the Sept. 11 observance ceremony at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, Vice President Mike Pence paid tribute to several heroes of that fateful day — including former Alexandrian Max Beilke.
Beilke, a 1950 Alexandria High School graduate, was among the first to be killed when hijackers rammed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
The plane crashed into a window in the office where Beilke had just attended a meeting to advocate for military retirees and veterans.
Pence talked about Beilke toward the end of his address. Among those listening was Beilke's cousin, Ray Beilke, of Carlos. Here's what he heard:
"The evil that descended on America 17 years ago still lingers in our world. So to any who would wish us harm, let them know this:
"As the American people have shown every day since that bright September morning, as President Trump said on these grounds one year ago, in his words, we overcome every challenge, we triumph over every evil, and we remain united as one nation under God.
"Max Beilke grew up in a big family, on a small farm in Minnesota. He was drafted out of high school into the United States Army and served for two years on the Korean Peninsula.
"Like so many veterans of the Korean War, he re-enlisted after the conflict ended. And more than 15 years later, he took up the cause of liberty fighting in the jungles of Vietnam.
"On March 29, 1973, Army Master Sergeant Max Beilke became the last American combat soldier to leave Saigon. On September 11, 2001, Master Sergeant Beilke was among the first to be declared lost here at the Pentagon.
"Today, on this September 11, we mourn with those who mourn, and grieve with those who grieve. But we do not grieve like those who have no hope, because heroes give us hope...
"And today we breathe a prayer for all of them and all of you — a prayer that I'm told that Master Sergeant Beilke recited every time he spoke to veterans in gatherings large and small across this country. He would always end with the same words.
"And so I — to you who are gathered here and have suffered this loss, to those we remember who look down from glory, and to those who fight and stand for our freedom this very hour, 'May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, the rain fall soft upon your fields. And, until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand."'
Beilke was awarded the Defense of Freedom medal and the Meritorious Civilian Service Award. He was buried Dec. 11, 2001, at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
The Alexandria VA outpatient clinic at 610 22nd Ave. East was named in his honor.