SHANKSVILLE – President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden marked the 19th anniversary of 9/11 by visiting the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Somerset County.
The field, now hallowed ground, is the site where 40 passengers and crew members lost their lives fighting back against terrorists who hijacked United Airlines Flight 93.
Their efforts to bring the plane down in the grassy field at 10:03 a.m. thwarted the terrorists’ plans to crash the plane into its intended target, the U.S. Capitol.
Trump appeared and spoke at an abbreviated ceremony Friday morning, while former Vice President Biden made a stop in the afternoon.
Earlier in the day, Biden attended the 9/11 Memorial & Museum’s annual commemoration at Ground Zero in New York, also attended by Vice President Mike Pence.
“Nineteen years ago on this day, at this very hour, on this field, 40 brave men and women triumphed over terror and gave their lives in defense of our nation,” Trump said in an approximately 15-minute speech honoring those who lost their lives. “Today we pay tribute to their sacrifice, and we mourn deeply for the nearly 3,000 precious and beautiful souls who were taken from us on Sept. 11, 2001. 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.”
Trump said “the 40 intrepid souls of Flight 93 died as heroes.”
He also thanked first responders who raced to the aid of victims at Ground Zero, including the more than 400 firefighters, police officers and port authority workers who lost their lives.
“Today, we honor their extraordinary sacrifice,” Trump said, asking people to never forget their bravery and calling for unity.
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered many American rituals, and the Flight 93 commemoration is among them – the ceremony, usually 90 minutes long, was shortened to less than an hour.
The anniversary ceremony began with a prayer and a moment of silence led by the Rev. Steven McKeown, chaplain to the FBI in Pittsburgh.
In years past, family members read aloud the names of those killed, but on Friday, one person, retired Flight 93 park ranger Mary Jane Hartman, was tasked with reading the list. The “Bells of Remembrance” rang between names.
The president was accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump. Among those who attended the ceremony was Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt.
Also offering remarks was Ed Root, vice president of Families of Flight 93. Root’s cousin, Lorraine G. Bay, was a flight attendant aboard the jetliner.
Root commented on “the collective act of courage” of the passengers and crew, who learned about the other terrorist attacks through phone calls from loved ones while they were in the air.
“They were unable to save themselves, but they knew that unless they acted, many more would die,” he said. “It is our responsibility as a nation to see that these actions are remembered.”
Flight 93 was en route from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when four hijackers seized control of the aircraft and redirected the plane toward Washington, D.C.
In all, nearly 3,000 people were killed on 9/11 in attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Arlington, Va.
Following the traditional wreath laying ceremony, family members of those who lost their lives aboard Flight 93 walked through the Wall of Names – some left flowers, rosaries, notes, and other personal items below the names etched into the wall – to the ground where the plane crashed.
The ceremony was closed to the public, but the 2,200-acre park reopened after it concluded, and dozens of visitors walked the grounds.
Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, also laid a wreath at the Wall of Names and then met with some of the family members, including Albert Youngblood, whose sister, Wanda Anita Green, was a flight attendant.
In informal comments, Biden remarked on the passengers’ courage, noting, “These are people who literally laid down their lives.”
“When you consciously know that what you’re about to do is likely to cost you your life, that is an incredible thing,” he said.
Youngblood, from New Jersey, attends the ceremony every year, but it was the first remembrance for his wife, Janet English, who met Youngblood after his sister died.
“It’s overwhelming,” said English. “His heart is full, and it’s a little much for him. I don’t know what to say to him, I don’t know what to do for him. His sister was a flight attendant. You leave home to go to work; you don’t expect to die.”
Biden recalled that his mother told him growing up that bravery resides in every heart, and she asked him, if tested, “how will you respond?”
“These people responded. Never underestimate the willingness of innocent people to save the lives of others,” Biden said.
Anne Small and her husband, Robert, made a 3 1/2-hour drive from Philadelphia to visit the site for the first time. Anne broke down in tears while walking near the wall and recalling where she was when she heard the news about the 9/11 attacks.
“Their sacrifice, it brings tears to my eyes just thinking about what they did,” she said. “I am amazed that the plane landed here in the middle of nowhere, when it could have destroyed houses or crashed in a populated area. It is amazing.”
Also this year, the Towers of Light tribute – double beams of light that evoke the twin towers and climb 20,000 feet into the sky – debuted. The lights, visible from as far away as 50 miles, will be displayed through Saturday.
Washington County residents, elected officials and veterans gathered in the parking lot of the Washington Mall in South Strabane Township, near the 9/11 memorial, to remember the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
A significant distance behind the crowd stood dozens of first responders lined up in front of their apparatus.
“Like so many other things in our current life, we knew that things would need to be a little bit different this year,” South Strabane police Chief Drew Hilk told the crowd as he began the 8:45 a.m. service Friday.
Hilk said they chose to keep first responders fairly distanced from the crowd for safety. Hilk and township fire Chief Scott Reese contribute to the planning of the event each year.
“Even though we had the challenges of the virus this year, we still wanted to do something that was going to help people reflect on the day of 9/11,” Reese said.
That’s why they had a few chairs set up, spaced six feet apart. They also decided to have emergency crews exit in a procession at the end of the service. Even with these changes, many residents still attended, which Hilk called “a testament to the community.”
“People in the community know that we do this, and they expect us to do it,” he said. “They like to join us and remember.”
Veterans from American Legion Post 175 presented the American flag before John Patterson sang the national anthem.
The Rev. Gary Gibson of North Buffalo United Presbyterian Church addressed the crowd, saying that while it’s been 19 years, “it seems like it just happened yesterday.”
He said Americans across the country remember where they were and what they were doing that morning when they learned of the attacks. He said many were “glued to the television” in the hours and days that followed. Gibson suggested that perhaps the world hasn’t changed all that much since.
“Terrorism of all kinds continues to plague our country, our schools, our highways and, unfortunately, even our churches,” Gibson said. “Help us to let go and let God take care of it.”
Gibson prayed, asking God for peace for the nation on such a solemn anniversary and for unity and safety as the country continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We know the sun is indeed shining somewhere, and let it shine with love, encouragement and support on each of us, but in particular, those families who lost loved ones,” he said. “Let us remember that the will of God will never take us to where the grace of God will not sustain us.”
The hymn, “Amazing Grace,” was played while Hilk and Reese placed wreaths at the memorial. Chuck Mass, a veteran with Legion Post 175, performed “Taps.”
The Rev. Robert Grewe of First Lutheran Church of Washington, who’s also the South Strabane fire chaplain, also prayed for the thousands of civilians and first responders who were killed that day.
“We know that these first responders rest in your loving arms, and we know that you remain with those who continue to struggle here with illness and trauma caused by those terroristic attacks,” Grewe said.
NEW YORK – Americans commemorated 9/11 Friday as another national crisis, the coronavirus, reconfigured ceremonies and as a presidential campaign carved a path through the memorials.
In New York, victims’ relatives gathered Friday morning for split-screen remembrances at the World Trade Center’s Sept. 11 memorial plaza and on a nearby corner, set up by separate organizations that differed on balancing tradition with virus safety.
Standing on the plaza, with its serene waterfall pools and groves of trees, Jin Hee Cho said she couldn’t erase the memory of the death of her younger sister, Kyung, in the 2001 terrorist attack that destroyed the trade center’s twin towers.
“It’s just hard to delete that in my mind. I understand there’s all this, and I understand now that we have even COVID,” said Cho, 55. “But I only feel the loss, the devastating loss of my flesh-and-blood sister.”
Around the country, some communities canceled 9/11 ceremonies, while others went ahead, sometimes with modifications. The Pentagon’s observance was so restricted that not even victims’ families could attend, though small groups could visit its memorial later in the day.
On an anniversary that fell less than two months before the presidential election, President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden both headed for the Flight 93 National Memorial in the election battleground state of Pennsylvania – at different times of day.
Biden also attended the ceremony at ground zero in New York, exchanging a pandemic-conscious elbow bump with Vice President Mike Pence before the observance began.
In short, the 19th anniversary of the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil was a complicated occasion in a maelstrom of a year, as the U.S. grapples with a pandemic, searches its soul over racial injustice and prepares to choose a leader to chart a path forward.
Still, 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 outside Washington and in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 11, 2001 – shaping American policy, perceptions of safety, and daily life in places from airports to office buildings.
“People could say, ‘Oh, 19 years.’ But I’ll always be doing something this day. It’s history,” said Annemarie D’Emic, who lost her brother Charles Heeran, a stock trader. She went to the alternative ceremony in New York, which kept up the longstanding tradition of in-person readers.
Speaking at the Pennsylvania memorial, Trump recalled how the plane’s crew and passengers tried to storm the cockpit as the hijackers as headed for Washington.
“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 Republican president said.
Biden visited the memorial later Friday, laid a wreath and greeted relatives of victims including First Officer LeRoy Homer. Biden expressed his respect for those aboard Flight 93, saying sacrifices like theirs “mark the character of a country.”
“This is a country that never, never, never, never, never, never gives up,” he said.
At the Sept. 11 memorial in New York hours earlier, Biden offered condolences to victims’ relatives including Amanda Barreto, 27, and 90-year-old Maria Fisher, empathizing with their loss of loved ones. Biden’s first wife and their daughter died in a car crash, and his son Beau died of brain cancer.
Biden didn’t speak at that ceremony, which customarily doesn’t let politicians make remarks.
Pence went on to the separate ceremony, organized by the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, where he read the Bible’s 23rd Psalm. His wife, Karen, read a passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes.
“For the families of the lost and friends they left behind, I pray these ancient words will comfort your heart and others,” said the vice president, drawing applause from the audience of hundreds.
Formed in honor of a firefighter killed on 9/11, the foundation felt in-person readers were crucial to the ceremony’s emotional impact and could recite names while keeping a safe distance. By contrast, recorded names emanated from speakers placed around the memorial plaza. Leaders said they wanted to keep readers and listeners from clustering at a stage.
As in past years on the plaza, many readers at the alternative ceremony added poignant tributes to their loved ones’ character and heroism, urged the nation not to forget the attacks and recounted missed family milestones: “How I wish you could walk me down the aisle in just three weeks,” Kaitlyn Strada said of her father, Thomas, a bond broker.
One reader thanked essential workers for helping New York City endure the pandemic, which has killed at least 24,000 people in the city and over 190,000 nationwide. Another reader, Catherine Hernandez, said she became a police officer to honor her family’s loss.
Other victims’ relatives, however, weren’t bothered by the switch to a recording at the ground zero ceremony, which also drew hundreds.
“I think it should evolve. It can’t just stay the same forever,” said Frank Dominguez, who lost his brother, Police Officer Jerome Dominguez.
The Sept. 11 memorial and the Tunnel to Towers foundation also tussled over the Tribute in Light, a pair of powerful beams that shine into the night sky near the trade center, evoking the twin towers. The 9/11 memorial initially canceled the display, citing virus safety concerns for the installation crew.
After the foundation vowed to put up the lights instead, the memorial changed course with help from its chair, former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The lights again went on at dusk Friday.
Tunnel to Towers, meanwhile, arranged to display single beams for the first time at the Shanksville memorial and the Pentagon.
The anniversary has become a day for volunteering, with the 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance organization encouraging people this year to make donations or take other actions from home because of the pandemic.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press journalists Alexandra Jaffe and Ted Shaffrey in New York, Darlene Superville in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.