Photo: AP Photo/John Minchillo. Former President Barack Obama, former First Lady Michelle Obama, President Joe Biden, and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, attend ceremonies to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York.Associated Press
Updated: September 11, 2021 01:39 PM
Three American presidents stood somberly side by side Saturday at the National September 11 Memorial in New York, sharing a moment of silence to mark the anniversary of the nation’s worst terrorist attack with a display of unity.
Presidents Joe Biden, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton gathered at the site where the World Trade Center towers fell two decades ago. Each man wore a blue ribbon and held his hands over his heart as a procession marched a flag through the memorial before hundreds of people, some carrying photos of loved ones lost in the attacks.
Before the event began, a jet flew overhead in an eerie echo of the attacks, drawing a glance from Biden toward the sky. For much of the ceremony he stood with his arms crossed and head bowed, listening while the names of the victims were read. At one point, he wiped a tear from his eye.
Biden was a senator when hijackers commandeered four planes and carried out the attack. He was Obama’s vice president in 2011 when the country observed the 10th anniversary of the strikes. Saturday’s commemoration was his first as commander in chief, beginning in New York City and culminating late afternoon at the Pentagon, where the world’s mightiest military suffered an unthinkable blow to its very home.
In between he visited Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where passengers brought down a hijacked plane that was headed for the U.S. Capitol. Biden and his wife, Jill, walked with relatives of the crash victims into the grassy field where the jet came to rest.
Biden later stopped by the Shanksville Volunteer Fire Company, the team that responded to the crash on Sept. 11, 2001. He brought a six-pack of beer and handed out souvenirs from the White House to the firefighters and their families gathered there.
It is now Biden who shoulders the responsibility borne by his predecessors to prevent another strike. He must do that against fears of a rise in terrorism after the hasty U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, where those who planned the Sept. 11 attacks were sheltered.
But on a day when his nation recalled its shock and sorrow, Biden left the speech-making to others.
Biden’s vice president, Kamala Harris, spoke in Shanksville at the Flight 93 National Memorial, praising the courage of those passengers and the resilience of Americans who came together in the days after the attacks.
“In a time of outright terror, we turned toward each other,” she said. “If we do the hard work of working together as Americans, if we remain united in purpose, we will be prepared for whatever comes next.”
Former President George W. Bush, speaking before Harris, recalled how 9/11 showed that Americans could unite despite their differences. It was a message, he said, that was needed today.
“So much of our politics have become a naked appeal to anger, fear and resentment,” Bush said. “On America’s day of trial and grief, I saw millions of people instinctively grab for a neighbor’s hand, and rally for the cause of one another. That is the America I know.”