Americans marked the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks today, observing moments of silence and reciting the names of the dead in an all too familiar annual ceremony.
More than a year after terror mastermind Osama bin Laden was killed in a raid on his Pakistan compound, there were signs that Americans may be ready to move forward. The New York memorial was subdued this year, with only family members permitted to attend and no politicians speaking.
In New York, bagpipes wailed mournfully, roses sprouted from the names of victims etched in granite, and families wandered the site holding pictures of their lost loved ones. For many the grief washed over them again as they spoke their names, said prayers or made pencil rubbings of their loved ones’ etched names.
“Clear day like this brings you right back eleven years ago,” said John Darcy, a New York City firefighter who works in a Greenwich Village firehouse that lost seven men at the World Trade Center.
“The only thing you can do is just keep them in your memories,” he said.
Throughout the city, cops in their precincts and firefighters in their stationhouses stood at attention to mark the moment that traumatized the city and the nation 11 years ago.
Similar heartbreaking scenes were played out at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pa.
While the grief was unabated, there was a noticeable difference in the scale of the memorials.
News coverage was scaled back compared to last year’s historic 10th anniversary and many of the past controversies – about how to best memorialize the victims and what to rebuild on the site — that had added to the day’s tension have been resolved.
As the country remembered those killed in attacks in New York, Washington D.C., and Shanksville, long-stalled programs intended to preserve victims’ memories and insure care for rescue workers were reinvigorated on the eve of the anniversary. And President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney suspended campaign advertisements for the day.
At 8:45 am EDT, Obama and first lady Michelle Obama observed a moment of silence on the White House’s South Lawn, and loved ones of those killed in New York City gathered at Ground Zero to read the names of those killed there.
“So as painful as this day is — and always will be — it leaves us with a lesson, that no single event can ever destroy who we are, no act of terrorism can ever change what we stand for,” the president said at remarks later in the morning at the Pentagon, one of three sites where airplanes commandeered by terrorists crashed on Sept. 11, 2001.
“It’s true that the majority of those who died on Sept. 11 had never put on our country’s uniform, and yet they inspired more than 5 million Americans, members of the 9/11 generation, to wear that uniform over the last decade. These men and women have done everything that we have asked,” he said.
Under sunny New York skies, a cloudless day eerily similar to the Tuesday 11 years ago that served as a spotless backdrop to the drama unfolding above their heads, victims’ family members greeted politicians who mingled at World Trade Center site.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D- NY, and Gov. Chris Christie, R- NJ, as well and New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano were all in attendance. But, for the first time, this year no politicians made public remarks at the New York memorial.
At the site where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood, family members gathered at a new memorial. The footprints of the giant buildings, once the tallest in New York, are now deep scars on the landscape, transformed into reflecting pools. Along the sides of each pool, nearly 3,000 names of victims and emergency workers killed on 9/11 are etched in the granite.
In the shade on 1 World Trade Center, the still unfinished but glistening tower built new at the site, many family members made pencil rubbings of their loved ones’ etched names.
Just before today’s anniversary, federal authorities concluded that the smoldering wreckage of the collapsed twin towers was responsible for the cancers of many of the volunteers who worked on the site or lived near the site in the months after the attack. Fifty cancers were added to a list of medical conditions for which emergency workers who were sent to Ground Zero and became sick can now receive compensation for treatment.
On Monday, officials announced a deal to resume construction on a 9/11 museum in lower Manhattan. The deal would put the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in control of the museum.
Vice President Biden spoke at the site in Pennsylvania where United flight 93 crashed on 9/11 when passengers confronted a group of terrorists intent on flying the plane into the White House.
“We wish we weren’t here. We wish we didn’t have to be here. We wish we didn’t have to commemorate any of this,” Biden said.