Americans remembered 9/11 on Sunday with tearful tributes and pleas to “never forget”, 21 years after the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil.
Bonita Mentis set out to read the names of the victims at the ground zero ceremony wearing a necklace with a picture of her slain sister, Shevonne Mentis, a 25-year-old Guyanese immigrant who worked for a financial company.
“It’s been 21 years, but it’s not 21 for us. It feels like yesterday,” Mentis said. “The wounds are still fresh.”
“No matter how many years have passed, no one can really understand what happened that day,” she added.
Relatives of the victims and dignitaries also gathered at the other two attack sites, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.
More than two decades later, 9/11 remains a point of reflection on the hijacked aircraft attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, reconfigured national security policy and sparked a US ‘war on terror’ in the whole world. Sunday’s celebrations, which follow a milestone anniversary last year, come just over a month after a US drone strikewho helped plan the September 11 attacks, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Pierre Roldan, who lost his cousin Carlos Lillo, a paramedic, said “we had some form of justice” when a US raid killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.
“Now that Al-Zawahiri is gone, at least we continue to get that justice,” Roldan said.
The September 11 attacks also generated – for a time – a sense of national pride and unity for many, while subject Muslim Americans to years of suspicion and bigotry and generate debate on the balance between security and civil liberties. In both subtle and obvious ways, the consequences of 9/11 ripple through American politics and public life nowadays.
But like other parents of victims, Jay Saloman fears American awareness of 9/11 is slipping.
“It was a terrorist attack on our country that day. And theoretically everyone should remember that and, you know, take precautions and be careful,” said Saloman, who lost his brother.
Like a growing number of those who read zero-sum names, the namesake nephew of firefighter Jimmy Riches had not yet been born when his parent died. But the boy took the podium to honor him.
“You are always in my heart. And I know you are watching over me,” he said after reading some of the victims’ names.
More than 70 of Sekou Siby’s colleagues perished at Windows on the World, the restaurant atop the mall’s north tower. Siby had to work that morning until another cook asked her to change shifts.
The Ivorian immigrant struggled to understand such horror in a country where he had come to seek a better life. And he struggled to form friendships as close as those he had had at Windows on the World. It was too painful, he learned, to get attached to people when “you have no control over what happens to them next”.
“Every 9/11 is a reminder of what I have lost and can never get back,” Siby said as the anniversary approaches. He is now president and CEO of ROC United, a restaurant worker advocacy group that evolved from a post-9/11 relief center.
On Sunday, President Biden laid a wreath at the Pentagon and delivered a speech honoring those killed in the attacks, saying the time that has passed “is both a life and no time at all. “.
“Terror struck us on that bright blue morning. The air filled with smoke, then came the sirens and the stories, the stories of those we lost, the stories of incredible heroism from that day terrible. American history itself changed on that day,” he said. . “But what we won’t change, what we can’t change, never will, is the character of this nation that the terrorists thought they could hurt.”
The president expressed his gratitude to the civilians and military who quickly responded to the Pentagon attack and to the Americans who joined the armed forces in the aftermath of 9/11, saying “we owe you.”
“Through all that has changed over the past 21 years, the enduring resolve of the American people to defend themselves against those who seek us harm and to bring justice to those responsible for attacks on our people has never wavered,” he said. he declared.
Mr. Biden also spoke about the importance of American democracy, saying that the American people have an obligation to defend and protect it. The president hasabout what he sees as assaults on democracy by some within the Republican Party who refuse to recognize the results of the 2020 presidential election.
“American democracy depends on the habits of the heart, of ‘we the people,'” he said. “It’s not enough to defend democracy once a year, or once in a while. It’s something we have to do every day. So it’s not just a day to remember, but a day of renewal and renewal. resolve for every American and our dedication to this country, to the principles it embodies, to our democracy.”
First Lady Jill Biden was also due to speak in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where one of the hijacked planes crashed after passengers and crew tried to storm the cockpit as the hijackers of the air were heading towards Washington. Al-Qaeda conspirators had taken control of the jets to use as missiles loaded with passengers.
Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoffat the National September 11 Memorial in New York, but by tradition, no political figure speaks. The observance instead focuses on the relatives of the victims reading aloud the names of the dead.
Nikita Shah traveled there in a T-shirt that bore the annual commemoration’s de facto epigraph – “never forget” – and the name of her slain father, Jayesh Shah.
The family then moved to Houston but often return to New York for the anniversary to be “surrounded by people who kind of went through the same kind of grief and feelings after 9/11,” Shah said. She was 10 when her father was killed.
Readers often add personal remarks that form an alloy of American feelings about 9/11 — grief, anger, toughness, appreciation for first responders and the military, appeals to patriotism, hopes for peace, the occasional political jab, and a poignant narrative. graduation ceremonies. , weddings, births and daily newspapers that the victims missed.
Some relatives also lament that a nation that united – to some extent – after the attacks has since splintered. So much so that federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, which were reshaped to focus on international terrorism after 9/11, now see the threat of domestic violent extremism as just as urgent.
“It took tragedy to unite us. It shouldn’t take another tragedy to unite us again,” said Andrew Colabella, whose cousin John DiGiovanni died in the 1993 bombing of the city. World Trade Center which presaged 9/11.
Beyond the attack sites, other communities across the country marked the day with candlelight vigils, interfaith services and other commemorations. Some Americans have joined volunteer projects on a day federally recognized as both Patriots’ Day and a National Day of Service and Remembrance.