NEW YORK (AP) The 9/11 anniversary commemoration at Ground Zero began on Saturday with a bell sound and a minute of silence, exactly 20 years after the start of the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil.
President Joe Biden, former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton joined a crowd of victims’ relatives and first responders at the 9/11 Memorial Square in New York City. The memorial stands where the twin towers of the World Trade Centers were struck and shot down by hijacked planes.
Celebrations are also planned at the two other sites where the 9/11 conspirators crashed the jets: the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Biden is expected to pay homage to all three places.
The anniversary comes against the backdrop of a pandemic and in the shadow of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, now led by the same militants who gave refuge to the 9/11 plotters.
The attacks killed nearly 3,000 people and marked the start of a new era of fear, war, politics, patriotism and tragedy.
It’s difficult because you were hoping it would be just another time and another world. But sometimes history starts to repeat itself and not in the best possible way, said Thea Trinidad, who lost her father in the attacks and signed up to read the names of the victims during the ceremony at Ground Zero in New York.
In a video posted Friday night, Biden mourned the ongoing losses of 9/11.
Children grew up without parents and parents suffered childless, said Biden, a childhood friend of the father of a 9/11 victim, Davis Grier Sezna Jr.
But the president also highlighted what he called the central lesson of September 11: that among our most vulnerable… unity is our greatest strength.
Former President George W. Bush, Leader of Nations on September 11, is expected at the Pennsylvania Memorial and his successor, Barack Obama, at Ground Zero. The only other post-September 11 US president, Donald Trump, plans to be in New York, in addition to commenting on a boxing match in Florida that evening.
More celebrations, ranging from a wreath laying in Portland, Maine, to a firefighter parade in Guam, are planned in a country now filled with 9/11 memorial plaques, statues and gardens.
Using hijacked planes as missiles, the attackers inflicted the deadliest terrorist attacks on American soil, killing nearly 3,000, toppling the Twin Towers and ushering in an era of fear.
Security has been redefined, with changes to airport checkpoints, policing practices and government oversight powers. In the years that followed, virtually any large-scale explosion, accident or act of violence seemed to raise a crucial question: is it terrorism? Ideological violence and plots have followed, although federal officials and the public have recently become increasingly concerned about threats from domestic extremists after years of focusing on international terrorist groups in the aftermath of September 11.
From the start, New York City faced questions about whether it could ever recover from the blow to its financial hub and restore a sense of security among the crowds and skyscrapers. New Yorkers eventually rebuilt a more populous and prosperous city, but had to contend with the tactics of a powerful police department after 9/11 and a growing gap between the haves and have-nots.
A war on terror led to invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, where America’s longest war ended last month with a massive and precipitous airlift punctuated by a suicide bombing that killed 169 Afghans and 13 US servicemen and was assigned to a branch of the Islamic State. extremist group. The United States now fears that Al-Qaida, the terrorist network behind 9/11, could regroup in Afghanistan.
Two decades after helping triage and treat wounded colleagues at the Pentagon on September 11, retired Army Col. Malcolm Bruce Westcott is saddened and frustrated by the continued threat of terrorism.
I always thought my generation, my military cohort, would take care of it, we wouldn’t pass it on to anyone else, said Westcott, of Greensboro, Ga. And we passed it on.
For Angelique Tung, who was at the mall for a business meeting on September 11 and escaped up 77 flights of stairs, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan sparked empathy for the troops who served there. Some are now wondering if their efforts and sacrifices made a difference, which makes Tung think of a question she’s asked since she survived 9/11.
I hope that after 20 years, other people are asking this question: what good can it come? says Tung, of Wellesley, Massachusetts.
September 11 launched a wave of shared mourning and a common goal, but it quickly gave way.
American Muslims have suffered suspicion, surveillance and hate crimes. The quest to understand the catastrophic toll of terrorist attacks led to changes in building design and emergency communications, but it also spurred conspiracy theories that sowed a culture of skepticism. Schisms and resentments grow about immigration, the balance between tolerance and vigilance, the sense of patriotism, the right way to honor the dead and the scope of a promise to never forget.
Trinidad was 10 years old when she heard her father, Michael, say goodbye to her mother over the phone from the burning mall. She remembers the pain but also the companionship of the days that followed, when all of New York felt like family.
Now when I feel like the world is so divided, I just wish we could come back to it, said Trinidad, from Orlando, Fla. I feel like the world would have been so different if we had just been able to hang on to that feeling.
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