A day of memory and reflection: 20 years after the attacks of September 11

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Family members and relatives of the victims of those who died on September 11 attend the 20th anniversary commemoration ceremony at the National September 11 Memorial on Saturday in New York City.

Chip Somodevilla / Pool / AFP / Getty Images

Updated September 11, 2021, 2:15 p.m. ET

Twenty years to the day after a pair of hijacked airliners destroyed the World Trade Center towers and another plane punched a gaping hole in the Pentagon and a fourth airliner crashed in a Pennsylvania field after passengers sought to regain control from the hijackers, Americans across the country reflected on the events that forever changed their country.

Almost 3,000 people were killed on September 11, 2001. The event not only sparked extremely costly and largely impossible to win wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also spawned a national war on terror, rewriting them. security and surveillance rules in the United States, the repercussions of which continue to be felt.

To commemorate the day, hundreds of people gathered in Lower Manhattan on Saturday at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum where the World Trade Center Twin Towers once stood. Three presidents – President Biden, former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton – and their wives were in attendance. They wore blue ribbons and held their hands over their hearts as a procession paraded a flag through the memorial and stood somberly side by side as the names of the dead were read by family members and stories were told. and memories were shared.

Former President Bill Clinton (left to right), Former First Lady Hillary Clinton, Former President Barack Obama, Former First Lady Michelle Obama, President Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, Former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg, his partner Diana Taylor, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer sang the national anthem at Saturday's ceremony in New York City.

Former President Bill Clinton (left to right), Former First Lady Hillary Clinton, Former President Barack Obama, Former First Lady Michelle Obama, President Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, Former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg, his partner Diana Taylor, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer sang the national anthem at Saturday’s ceremony in New York City.

Chip Somodevilla / Pool / AFP / Getty Images

The president and the first lady also met with former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and his partner, Diana Taylor, according to the White House. They greeted FBI Director Christopher Wray, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the New York Congressional delegation, and many other current and former state and local officials as they arrived at the memorial. Rudy Giuliani, the mayor of New York at the time of the attacks, also attended the ceremony.

At a ceremony in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, former President George W. Bush recalled the day “the world was loud with bloodshed and sirens. And then silent with voices.”

Bush lamented the current era of political division, apparently alluding to the January 6 insurgency on the United States Capitol.

Former President George W. Bush pauses during his speech during the 9/11 commemoration at the National Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pa. On Saturday.

Former President George W. Bush pauses during his speech during the 9/11 commemoration at the National Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pa. On Saturday.

Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty Images

“We have seen more and more evidence that dangers to our country can come, not only across borders, but also from the violence that gathers inside,” Bush said. “There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home… they are filthy like-minded children, and it is our continued duty to confront them.”

Also in Shanksville, where a hijacked plane crashed after passengers battled, Vice President Harris called the site “holy ground.”

United Flight 93 taught us “about the courage of those on board, who gave their all. About the determination of the first responders, who risked it all. About the resilience of the American people,” she said .

Visitors line the Wall of Names at the National Flight 93 Friday Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  The Luminaria ceremony commemorates the 40 victims of Flight 93.

Visitors line the Wall of Names at the National Flight 93 Friday Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The Luminaria ceremony commemorates the 40 victims of Flight 93.

Jeff Swensen / Getty Images

Echoing Bush, Harris said that in the days following the attacks, “we were all reminded that unity is possible in America. We were also reminded that unity is imperative in America. It is essential to our shared prosperity, our national security, and our position in the world. “

The Bidens also attended a wreath laying ceremony in Shanksville and were to do the same later at the Pentagon in Washington, DC.

Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump posted a video message on Saturday morning, widely lambasting Biden’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Trump, who visited Shanksville on Friday, is also expected to visit Ground Zero on Saturday afternoon before commenting on the ring during a boxing match at a casino in Hollywood, Florida.

Related: See more NPR coverage of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Claudia Castano (right) touches her brother German's name which is engraved at the Empty Sky 9/11 Memorial at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, NJ on September 11, 2021.

Claudia Castano (right) touches her brother German’s name which is engraved at the Empty Sky 9/11 memorial at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, NJ on September 11, 2021.

Roberto Schmidt / AFP / Getty Images

At Zero Point in New York City, the national anthem was performed in a solemn ceremony, and then, in what has become an annual tradition, a minute of silence was observed at 8:46 a.m., when Flight 11 of American Airlines crashed in the north. tower.

The names of the victims were read authorized by family members, who shared anecdotes and memories of loved ones.

Another moment of silence was observed at 9:03 a.m. when United Flight 175 struck the South Tower, at 9:59 a.m. when the South Tower collapsed, and at 10:28 a.m. when the North Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.

More than 2,600 people have been killed in and around the buildings of the World Trade Center. In the Pentagon, 184 died and 40 others were killed in Pennsylvania.

Among those who attended the ceremony in Manhattan was Bruce Springsteen, who, with an acoustic guitar and harmonica, took to the stage to perform “I’ll See You In My Dreams”. The New York Police Pipe and Drum Group also performed “Hard Times Come Again No More”, an American folk song from the 1850s.

Biden made no remarks, but speaking on Friday he said that in the days following the 2001 attacks, “we saw heroism everywhere – in places expected and unexpected.”

“We also saw something too rare: a real sense of national unity,” the president said.

A man mourns Saturday at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City on the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

A man mourns Saturday at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City on the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

Mike Segar / Pool / Getty Images

A minute of silence was also observed at 9:37 a.m., marking the moment when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the west face of the Pentagon. A ceremony was hosted there by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Army Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley.

In London, Acting Ambassador to the UK Philip Reeker attended a special changing of the guard at Windsor Castle, where the US national anthem was performed. Reeker said Americans would be “forever grateful” for the “lasting friendship” between the two countries.

The 20th anniversary of the attacks comes just weeks after the chaotic final withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, ending America’s longest war.

Soldiers wait under an American flag before the start of the 9/11 celebration ceremony at the Pentagon at the Pentagon National September 11 Memorial in Arlington, Virginia.

Soldiers wait under an American flag before the start of the 9/11 celebration ceremony at the Pentagon at the Pentagon National September 11 Memorial in Arlington, Virginia.

Win McNamee / Getty Images

Following the 2001 attacks, President Bush ordered “boots on the ground” in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan to root out al-Qaida and hunt down the mastermind of the attacks, Osama bin Laden. The war passed to his successor, Obama, under his watch, Bin Laden was located in Pakistan and killed in a secret US military operation. But the war dragged on. The Trump White House negotiated directly with the Taliban a full withdrawal of US forces, which was completed last month.

However, as US troops departed, the Taliban also gained the upper hand over US-trained Afghan security forces, leading to the rapid collapse of the Afghan government.

Many families of the 9/11 victims had asked Biden not to attend the 20th anniversary commemorative events unless he orders the declassification of documents which they say will show Saudi leaders provided material support to Ben Laden.

A rose rests on a bench at the Pentagon National September 11 Memorial, September 11, 2021, in Arlington, Virginia.

A rose rests on a bench at the Pentagon National September 11 Memorial, September 11, 2021, in Arlington, Virginia.

Win McNamee / Getty Images

During his campaign, Biden had promised that if elected, he would ask the Justice Department to release more information about the attacks in a “narrowly tailored” fashion.

“The families of September 11 are right to seek full truth and full responsibility,” he said.

Earlier this month, Biden signed an executive order to begin declassifying those documents.

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