NEW YORK – With solemn ceremonies and prayers, moments of silence and the ringing of bells, the nation Sunday marked the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed 2,977 people and forever changed how the United States views itself and its place in the world.
Commemorations unfolded in New York and outside Washington, where hijackers piloted planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and at a rural field in Pennsylvania, where a plane crashed after passengers fought back against their hijackers.
“As Americans, we do not give in to fear,” President Barack Obama said at the Pentagon Memorial service as about 800 family and friends of those who died stood for 30 seconds of silence at 9:37 a.m. EDT, the same time of morning that a jetliner struck the building and killed 184 people.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph F. Dunford Jr. joined Obama in placing a wreath of white lilies in the memorial garden.
“The most enduring memorial . is ensuring the America we continue to be, that we stay true to ourselves, stay true to what is best in us, that we not let others divide us,” Obama said.
A military band played “America the Beautiful.”
Both major presidential candidates attended the ceremony in Lower Manhattan, but Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton left early, after about an hour and a half; she felt overheated, according to a statement from campaign spokesman Nick Merrill.
Clinton appeared to stumble as she approached her vehicle and had to be helped. But she went to daughter Chelsea’s apartment to rest, and is “feeling much better,” Merrill said.
She emerged about two hours later, saying as she left, “It’s a beautiful day in New York.”
Asked if she was feeling better, she replied: “Yes, thank you very much.”
The New York ceremony started with a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., coinciding with the time the first plane struck the north tower. Some bowed their heads while others held high photos of their loved ones.
Then began the lengthy process of reading out the names of the victims. Family members came to the stage in pairs to read them out and sometimes add a heartfelt message about the victims.
Jeremy D’Amadeo was 10 when his father, Vincent, was killed at the World Trade Center, and he spent many summers at a camp for children of 9/11 victims.
“This summer I had the privilege of working with kids who had their own tragic loss, kids of Sandy Hook,” D’Amadeo said. “These kids lifted me up and made me know that I wanted to give back as much as I can.
”Sometimes the bad things that happen in our lives put us on the paths we should be going, to help others as much as we can. P.S, Dad, I love you.“
Emily Ortiz, 16, of Queens, said she found comfort in attending the anniversary ceremony because it allowed her to remember her father, Pete Ortiz, who died on 9/11. She said he worked on the 92nd floor of the north tower.
”We’ve always heard stories of my father so this is another way to feel closer to him,“ Ortiz said.
The New York remembrance was a private event attended by families and local officials.
At the ceremony at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., a large American flag hung from the roof of the building where American Airlines Flight 77 barreled into the limestone facade of the building. It billowed in gusts of wind that moved streaks of clouds across the pale blue sky, occasionally blocking out the sun.
Several hundred families and friends of those who died participated in Sunday’s memorial, many wearing red white and blue ribbons in their lapels.
A girl, about 6 years old, in a blue-and-white striped dress, held a single yellow chrysanthemum and followed her family through the memorial garden to place the flower on one of the 184 curved benches, a narrow channel of rippling water reflecting light below them, spaced between crape myrtle trees.
”There are a million places if rather be than at the Pentagon“ on Sept. 11, said Devora Kirschner, 40, whose husband was working as a Naval intelligence officer when he died in the attack.
As she spoke, a jetliner flew past the building, taking off from Reagan National Airport nearby. ”Especially with planes flying overhead,“ she said, standing next to her husband’s bench. ”It’s unnerving.“
Four years ago, Kirshner remarried. She wanted to attend Sunday’s service to place flowers, a bouquet of sunflowers and roses, on the memorial bench that bears the name of her dead husband, Lt. Darrin H. Pontell.
A friend of her husband’s had placed a CD by the band Rush, her husband’s favorite. ”I look at the benches that don’t have flowers. I would hate it if my husband didn’t have flowers,“ Kirshner said.
Abraham Scott, 64, came to the Pentagon with his two daughters, two granddaughters and many other relatives and friends.
His wife, Janice Marie Scott, was working as a budget officer at the Pentagon on the morning of the attack.
For years, Scott sat in monthly therapy sessions with other families of people killed at the Pentagon. He talked about his wife’s death and how it upended his family’s life, how she had sorted her personal files at home the weekend before she died, almost as if she had a premonition she would be taken from them.
”My desire to hate has gone,“ Scott said. ”I turned hatred into a means to keep their memory alive.“
Over the past several years, Scott has worked with other people who lost loved ones on Sept. 11 to push the federal government to adopt the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. He lobbied lawmakers to pass a law that would strip sovereign immunity from countries believed to support terrorism, opening up the ability for victims of terror attacks to sue countries that may have helped carry out an attack.
That bill, called the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, was already approved by the Senate and passed the House on Friday. The bill will be sent to the White House for Obama’s signature. The president has been reluctant to support the bill because other countries could adopt similar polices that would open the U.S. government up to a raft of new liabilities and lawsuits for its actions overseas.
At the Flight 93 National Memorial in southwestern Pennsylvania, the ceremony included music, the reading of the names of the 40 victims who died there and the ringing of bells.
The testimonials went well beyond the official ceremonies. Tourists crowded the memorial fountains built into the footprints of the two original World Trade Center towers.
Some people left roses and mini American flags on the fountains’ black granite edges, where the names of victims are engraved.
Among the visitors was Greg Brierley, 49, of Milan, Mich., a retired firefighter who said he came to the site to remember the first responders killed on Sept. 11. ”We’re all brothers and sisters,“ he said.
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