US leaders spoke calmly on Saturday about how the events of September 11, 2001, changed them, their country and the world forever, in a series of remembrances of the 20th anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attack in modern history.
In a series of speeches, he urged Americans to embrace the unity that defined the days after that attack.
“In the days after September 11, 2001, we were all reminded that unity is possible in America,” Vice President Kamala Harris said while speaking in Shanksville, Pa., the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93, in which all 44 People were killed. Passengers on board after revolting against the hijackers. “We were also reminded that unity is essential in America. It is essential to our shared prosperity, our national security, and our position in the world.”
Former President George W. Bush, joining him in Shanksville, spoke about the event that defined his presidency.
“For those too young to remember that clear September day, it’s hard to describe the mix of emotions we experienced,” he said. “There was horror at the scale of the destruction, and awe at the bravery and kindness that arose to meet him. There was a stroke of gratitude for the audacity of evil and the valor and decency that opposed it. “
The attacks prompted him to launch the Global War on Terror, which spanned nearly 20 years, making it the nation’s longest war and claiming the lives of thousands of American service members and countless civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. US President Joe Biden last month decisively ended the conflict in Afghanistan, withdrawing all military and diplomatic personnel.
In his remarks, Bush said that the American people are capable of coming together under the worst of circumstances.
“In the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks, I was proud to lead an amazing, resilient, united people,” he said. “When it comes to the unity of America, those days seem far from our own. A deadly force at work in our ordinary lives turns every disagreement into an argument and every argument into a clash of cultures. Our politics So much of it has become a naked appeal of anger, fear and resentment. It makes us worry about our nation and our future.”
His call for unity was echoed by President Biden on the eve of the anniversary. In pre-recorded remarks, Biden used the serious opportunity to re-call for unity in an increasingly divided America, where intelligence officials have identified domestic terrorism as a serious threat.
“Unity is what makes us who we are,” he said. “America at its best. For me, this is the central lesson of September 11: It is that, at our weakest, of all that makes us human, in the fight for America’s soul, unity is our greatest strength.” Unity does not mean that we have to believe in the same thing. We should have a fundamental respect and trust in each other and in this country.”
In Shanksville, Harris walked through the crash site on a sunny Saturday morning, marking this dark anniversary. Before leaving for a private wreath-laying ceremony with the families of the victims, she stopped to read some of the names at the memorial.
In his remarks, he stressed that unity does not mean conformity.
“In America, our diversity is our strength,” said Harris, who is the first woman to serve in that role, and also the first black American and Asian American in the job. “At the same time, we saw after 9/11 how fear can be used to sow division.”
Biden, traveling separately, walked slowly through the same area a few hours later, with first lady Jill Biden by his side. Both wore black.
And at Ground Zero in New York, family members took turns reading out the victims’ names in alphabetical order. They began shortly after 8:46 to mark the time American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center—and where, 17 minutes later, United Airlines Flight 175 collided with the South Tower.
Family members also offered personal memories about lost spouses, siblings, parents and grandparents—some of whom were never found before their deaths. Some cried, hugged and struggled to decipher all the 2,977 names, not including the 19 hijackers who died by murder-suicide in the attacks.
They were reading names even after Saturday afternoon started.