NEW YORK — Americans are commemorating 9/11 with tributes that have been altered by coronavirus precautions and woven into the presidential campaign, drawing both President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden to pay respects at the same memorial without crossing paths.
Check back for updates throughout the day as America marks the 19th anniversary of the September 11th attacks.
What You Need To Know
- There will be two remembrances in New York Friday: One at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza at the World Trade Center and an alternate ceremony held by leaders of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation
- The Pentagon’s observance will be so restricted that not even victims’ families can attend; small groups can visit the memorial there later in the day
- Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, attended the ceremony at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza at the World Trade Center
- Trump spoke at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania; Biden is expected there later today
- Kamala Harris spoke at a 9/11 remembrance ceremony in Fairfax, Virginia
- Vice President Mike Pence is was also at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza at the World Trade Center and spoke at the alternate ceremony
In New York, a dispute over coronavirus-safety precautions is leading to split-screen remembrances Friday, one at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza at the World Trade Center and another on a nearby corner. The Pentagon’s observance will be so restricted that not even victims’ families can attend, though small groups can visit the memorial there later in the day.
Biden, along with his wife Dr. Jill Biden, attended the event at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza, arriving flanked by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
Before departing to visit the memorial, Biden told members of the press, “I’m not gonna be making any news today. I’m not gonna talk about anything other than 9/11. We took all our advertising down. It’s a solemn day and that’s how we’re gonna keep it.”
Biden and Vice President Mike Pence greeted one another at the 9/11 memorial in NYC.
While the names were being read aloud, Biden spoke to an elderly woman in a wheelchair who was holding a picture of her son, who she said passed away at 43.
He shared the experience of losing his son, Beau, and told her, “it never goes away.”
At the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, Trump honored the “40 brave men and women” who “triumphed over terror and gave their lives in defense of our nation.”
“The heroes of Flight 93 are an everlasting reminder that no matter the danger, no matter the threat, no matter the odds, America will always rise up, stand tall, and fight back,” the president added.
The Bidens also visited the Flight 93 National Memorial later Friday, where they laid a wreath to pay their respects.
Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, attended a remembrance ceremony in Fairfax, Virginia, accompanied by her husband Doug Emhoff.
“What our attackers failed to understand is that the darkness they hoped would envelop us on 9/11 instead summoned our most radiant and defined human instincts,” she said.
The alternative ceremony, held by leaders of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, will include a live reading of victim names by family members, which the official ceremony opted not to do due to coronavirus restrictions.
In short, the anniversary of 9/11 is a complicated occasion in a maelstrom of a year, as the U.S. grapples with a health crisis, searches its soul over racial injustice and prepares to choose a leader to chart a path forward.
Still, 9/11 families say it’s important for the nation to pause and remember the hijacked-plane attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people at the trade center, at the Pentagon and near Shanksville on Sept. 11, 2001, shaping American policy, perceptions of safety and daily life in places from airports to office buildings.
“I know that the heart of America beats on 9/11 and, of course, thinks about that tragic day. I don’t think that people forget,” says Anthoula Katsimatides, who lost her brother John and is now on the board of the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum.
Friday marked Trump’s second time observing the 9/11 anniversary at the Flight 93 memorial, where he made remarks in 2018. Biden spoke at the memorial’s dedication in 2011, when he was vice president.
The ground zero ceremony in New York has a longstanding custom of not allowing politicians to speak, though they can attend. Biden did so as vice president in 2010, and Trump as a candidate in 2016.
Though the candidates will be focused on the commemorations, the political significance of their focus on Shanksville is hard to ignore: Pennsylvania is a must-win state for both. Trump won it by less than a percentage point in 2016.
Around the country, some communities have canceled 9/11 commemorations because of the pandemic, while others are going ahead, sometimes with modifications.
The New York memorial is changing one of its ceremony’s central traditions: having relatives read the names of the dead, often adding poignant tributes.
Thousands of family members are still invited. But they’ll hear a recording of the names from speakers spread around the vast plaza, a plan that memorial leaders felt would avoid close contact at a stage but still allow families to remember their loved ones at the place where they died.
But some victims’ relatives felt the change robbed the observance of its emotional impact. A different 9/11-related group, the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, set up its own, simultaneous ceremony a few blocks away, saying there’s no reason that people can’t recite names while keeping a safe distance.
The two organizations also tussled over the Tribute in Light, a pair of powerful beams that shine into the night sky near the trade center and evoke its fallen twin towers. The 9/11 memorial initially canceled the display, citing virus-safety concerns for the installation crew. After the Tunnel to Towers Foundation vowed to put up the lights instead, the memorial changed course with help from its chairman, former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Tunnel to Towers, meanwhile, arranged to display single beams for the first time at the Shanksville memorial and the Pentagon.
Over the years, the anniversary also has become a day for volunteering. Because of the pandemic, the 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance organization is encouraging people this year to make donations or take other actions that can be accomplished at home.
The Associated Press contribued to this report.