Americans looked back on 9/11 Tuesday with solemn ceremonies, volunteer service and a presidential tribute to “the moment when America fought back” on one of the hijacked planes used as weapons in the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil.
Thousands of 9/11 victims’ relatives, survivors, rescuers and others who gathered on a misty Tuesday morning at the memorial plaza where the World Trade Center’s twin towers once stood. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence headed to the two other places where hijacked planes crashed on Sept. 11, 2001: a Pennsylvania field and the Pentagon.
Seventeen years after losing her husband, Margie Miller went to the New York City ceremony from her home in suburban Baldwin.
“To me, he is here. This is my holy place,” she said before the hours-long reading of the names of the nearly 3,000 dead, including her husband, Joel Miller.
The president and first lady Melania joined an observance at the Sept. 11 memorial in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where one of the jetliners fell to the ground after 40 passengers and crew members realized hijackers had taken control and tried to storm the cockpit.
Calling it “the moment when America fought back,” Trump said the fallen “took control of their destiny and changed the course of history.”
They “joined the immortal ranks of American heroes,” said Trump.
Pence recalled the heroism of service members and civilians who repeatedly went back into the Pentagon to rescue survivors.
The terrorists “hoped to break our spirit, and they failed,” he said.
The 9/11 commemorations are by now familiar rituals, centered on reading the names of the dead. But each year at ground zero, victims’ relatives infuse the ceremony with personal messages of remembrance, inspiration and concern.
For Nicholas Haros Jr., that concern is officials who make comparisons to 9/11 or invoke it for political purposes.
“Stop. Stop,” pleaded Haros, who lost his 76-year-old mother, Frances. “Please stop using the bones and ashes of our loved ones as props in your political theater. Their lives, sacrifices and deaths are worth so much more. Let’s not trivialize them.”
This year’s anniversary comes as a heated midterm election cycle kicks into high gear. But there have long been some efforts to separate the solemn anniversary from politics. The group 9/11 Day, which promotes volunteering on an anniversary service in 2009, routinely asks candidates not to campaign or run political ads for the day. Organizers of the ground zero ceremony allow politicians to attend, but they’ve been barred since 2011 from reading names or delivering remarks.
If not political speeches, some victims’ relatives made appeals to patriotism and support for the military and first responders as they read names. Mary Ann Marino said her family is humbled by the actions of first responders like her husband, firefighter Kenneth Marino, but “our hearts still ache for what should have been.”
Other relatives laid bare the toll their losses had taken on their families. Thomas Langer said his brother, Timmy, “drank himself to death” over the grief of losing his wife, Vanessa, and their unborn child on Sept. 11.
“I witnessed my brother endure the pain that no one human being was ever meant to bear,” Thomas Langer said, adding that he had struggled with despair himself.
Sept. 11 still shapes American policy, politics and everyday experiences in places from airports to office buildings, even if it’s less of a constant presence in the public consciousness after 17 years.
A stark reminder came not long after last year’s anniversary: A truck mowed down people, killing eight, on a bike path within a few blocks of the World Trade Center on Halloween.
In December, a would-be suicide bomber set off a pipe bomb in a subway passageway near Times Square, authorities said. They said suspects in both attacks were inspired by the Islamic State extremist group.
The recent attacks scare Ruben Perez, who read names at the trade center Tuesday.
“I get very worried for the state of society. … It’s part of what it means to be human in the 21st century, a fear for public safety,” said Perez, who was 6 when his uncle, Calixto Anaya Jr., died in the 9/11 attacks.
Memorials to 9/11 continue to grow at Shanksville, where the Tower of Voices will eventually include a wind chime for each of the 40 people killed there, and ground zero, where work is to begin soon on a pathway honoring rescue and recovery workers.
It will serve as a way to honor those who became sick or died from exposure to toxins released when the Trade Center’s twin towers collapsed. Researchers have documented elevated rates of respiratory ailments, post-traumatic stress disorder and other illnesses among people who spent time in the rubble.
About 38,500 people have applied to a compensation fund, and over $3.9 billion in claims have been approved.
Meanwhile, a subway station destroyed on 9/11 finally reopened Saturday. In June, doors opened at the 80-story 3 World Trade Center, one of several rebuilt office towers that have been constructed or planned at the site.
Victims’ families, too, have evolved and grown.
“Even though I never met you,” Isabella Del Corral said of her slain grandfather, Joseph Piskadlo, “I’ll never forget you.”