The families, the politicians and ordinary Americans stood Saturday in lower Manhattan where, 20 years earlier, on a similarly crystal-clear morning, two massive towers soared above New York City. At 8:46 a.m., the exact time in 2001 when a hijacked jet crashed into the north tower and their lives and the world began to change in ways then inconceivable, they fell silent.
For two decades, Americans have mourned a loss so deep it shook the country to its core. But even as time has passed, and the attacks have moved from fresh memory into the chronicles of history, the people who gathered in New York and near Washington and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, said the wounds from 9/11 have remained fresh.
In New York, President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden stood shoulder to shoulder at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza with two pairs of their Democratic predecessors, Barack and Michelle Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton, who was a senator of New York 20 years ago. Nearby was Rudolph Giuliani, a Republican who was the mayor of New York during the attacks.
All of them watched as families of the victims read the names of the dead, tears streaming down their cheeks and their voices shaking.
At a memorial near Shanksville, the bells tolled at 10:03 a.m., the moment when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed after the crew and passengers fought back against the terrorists who had hijacked their flight and diverted it from their intended target in Washington.
Former President George W. Bush and Vice President Kamala Harris both attended a ceremony in which the names of the 40 passengers and crew members who died were read aloud.
The Department of Defense unfurled a large American flag on the side of the Pentagon, where a ceremony was also held to honor the 184 people killed after a plane hit the building’s west side.
“The hallways that we tread were the ones where so many of them walked,” said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. “It will always be our duty to fulfill their missions and live up to their goodness and to stand guard over this democracy.”