‘Unbearable sorrow’: US commemorates 20th anniversary of 9/11

‘That’s genuine heroism,’ says Biden of the passengers and crew on Flight 93

Twenty years after hijacked airliners smashed into New York City’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon outside Washington, Americans came together on Saturday to honour the nearly 3,000 lives lost on September 11th, 2001, and reflect on how the attacks have shaped the country’s view of the world and itself.

With president Joe Biden on hand, the ceremony at the September 11th memorial in lower Manhattan began with a moment of silence at 8.46am EDT (12.46pm GMT), the exact time the first of two planes flew into the World Trade Center's twin towers.

Mike Low, whose daughter was a flight attendant on the airliner that struck the North Tower described the "unbearable sorrow" experienced by his family over the past 20 years. "As we recite the names of those we lost my memory goes back to that terrible day when it felt like an evil spectre had descended on our world, but it was also a time when many people acted above and beyond the ordinary," he said.

Relatives then began to read aloud the names of 2,977 victims to the thousands who had gathered on the cool, clear morning, among them former president Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, New York's junior senator at the time of the attacks.


After ground zero, Mr Biden headed to the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, where a third airliner crashed; and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where Flight 93 was downed after passengers tried to regain control of the hijacked plane.

In Shanksville, the Bidens participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Flight 93 National Memorial where names of the deceased are etched on a marble wall.

Mr Biden told reporters the passengers and crew who stormed the cockpit had stepped up in a crisis. "That's genuine heroism," he said. He praised a speech given in Shanksville earlier in the day by former president George W Bush, the Republican who was in office during the September 11th attacks.

In a rare public address, Mr Bush warned of the threat from domestic terrorism. He recalled how Americans came together after the attacks and urged a spirit of greater unity amid growing political division in the country.

Vice-president Kamala Harris said the passengers and crew members who died in Shanksville focused on common humanity during a time of terror. “It is my hope and prayer that we continue to honour their courage, their conviction, with our own; that we honour their unity by strengthening our common bonds, by strengthening our global partnerships.”

Mr Biden’s last visit of the day was to the Pentagon, the symbol of US military might that was pierced by another of the planes that were used as missiles that day.

Annual tradition

The remembrances have become an annual tradition but Saturday has special significance, coming 20 years after the morning that many view as a turning point in US history, a day that gave Americans a sense of vulnerability that has deeply influenced the country’s political life since then.

In a painful reminder of those changes, only weeks ago US and allied forces completed a chaotic withdrawal from the war the US started in Afghanistan in retaliation for the attacks – which became the longest war in US history. And the Covid-19 pandemic, which so far has claimed more than 655,000 lives in the US, continues.

Clifford Chanin, executive vice-president at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum built at the site of the World Trade Center attack, said the two-decade milestone would serve as a "moment of high emotion" for the country, a time to consider "where we've been and where we are headed".

“Of course, we are in the middle of another unimaginable event right now with the Covid pandemic, but if 9/11 brings us anything in terms of what happened here and at the other attack sites, it is a message of resilience,” Chanin told reporters this week.

At sunset, 88 powerful lightbulbs will project twin beams four miles (6.4 km) into the sky to mirror the fallen towers. This year, buildings throughout Manhattan, including the Empire State Building and the Metropolitan Opera, will join the commemoration by illuminating their facades in blue.

Also marking the anniversary, the New York Mets and New York Yankees baseball teams will play each other on Saturday evening as part of a special Subway Series, their first game on September 11th since the attacks. The players will wear caps bearing logos for the New York City Fire Department and other first responders.

While many of the large events were happening in and around New York City, people across the country planned events to remember those who died and to educate the public. At the Pentagon, headquarters of the US Defense Department, an American flag was unfurled on the west side where an airplane hit the building at 9.37am EDT (13.37pm GMT) on September 11th, 2001. – Reuters