NEW YORK — Solemn crowds around the country gathered in silence Saturday for the 20th time to remember the nearly 3,000 people killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that forever changed the nation.
Bells tolled to signify the moments each tower of the World Trade Center was hit 20 years ago. Family members clutched photos of loved ones and wiped tears from one another’s eyes. In New York City, twin beams of light reached 4 miles into the sky in a haunting reminder of where the towers once stood.
Ceremonies were held Saturday in New York City, at the Pentagon and outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania, to honor the dead.
As survivors, politicians, first responders and loved ones of those who died reflected on the anniversary, many praised the unity Americans showed and highlighted the importance of passing on the memory of the day to those too young to remember it.
Former President George W. Bush recalled the unity and strength Americans showed 20 years ago, urging the country to put aside their political views to come together again today.
“So much of our politics has become a naked appeal to anger, fear and resentment,” Bush said at a private ceremony for family of those killed when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
“On America’s day of trial and grief, I saw millions of people instinctively grab their neighbor’s hand and rally to the cause of one another.”
Bush, who was in office at the time, acknowledged that many people today aren’t old enough to remember these moments, even though they now “owe a vast, unconscious debt” to the first responders and others who died in the attacks.
“For those too young to recall that clear September day, it is hard to describe the mix of feelings we experienced,” he said. “There was horror at the scale of destruction and awe at the bravery and kindness that rose to meet it.”
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden planned to visit all three sites. In New York, they were joined by former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, as well as former first ladies Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama. The three presidents stood side-by-side, each wearing blue ribbons and holding their hands over their hearts as a procession marched a flag through the memorial
Christine Munson, whose mother, Theresa, died in the south tower on Sept. 11, said she wishes the country could go back to the unity she felt after 9/11.
“We were there for each other and now we’re so divided,” she said.
Munson has volunteered at the 9/11 Museum, sharing her mother’s story with countless strangers. That’s part of what’s unique about mourning a 9/11 victim, she said.
“Most people die and you have a private ceremony,” she said. “Here, it’s with the whole world.”