- President Obama led the tributes to the nearly 3,000 people who died on September 11, 2001 as he spoke outside the Pentagon on Thursday – and vowed to make American even stronger
- A name-reading ceremony is underway at Memorial Plaza in Manhattan for victims’ families and survivors
- A ceremony of remembrance will also take place at Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania
- Memorial Plaza will be open to the public for the first time on September 11
- The Tribune in Light – two beams of light marking where the towers once stood – will illuminate the skies over the Financial District from sunset to early Friday on morning
President Obama has led moving tributes to the nearly 3,000 victims of 9/11 as America marks the 13th anniversary of the terror attacks.
The Commander in Chief spoke outside the Pentagon, where 184 people lost their lives, on Thursday, while victims’ families also gathered at the World Trade Center site in Manhattan and the memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where Flight 93 crashed.
‘It has now been 13 years,’ Obama said. ‘Thirteen years since the peace of an American morning was broken; thirteen years since nearly 3,000 beautiful people were taken from us; thirteen years of moments they would have shared with us; thirteen years of memories they would have made.’
But he paid tribute to the strength and the endurance of the families, survivors and Pentagon personnel who returned to work the next day, more determined than ever to keep America strong.
‘As Americans, we draw strength from you,’ he said. ‘Your love is the ultimate rebuke to the hatred of those who attacked us that bright, blue morning… America stands tall and America stands proud… We will only grow stronger.’
oday is also the first time the The National September 11 Museum – which includes gut-wrenching artifacts and graphic photos of the attacks – will be open to the public on an anniversary. Fences around the memorial plaza have come down, opening it up to the public and camera-wielding tourists.
But before the public is allowed inside, there is the traditional name-reading ceremony at the 9/11 Memorial Plaza for every one of the people who perished in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and inside the plane that crashed in rural Pennsylvania. The ceremony started at 8.46am, marking the moment the first plane hit the north tower.
During the ceremony, six moments of silence will also be observed to mark the strikes on the towers, the Pentagon, the collapse of the skyscrapers and the time Flight 93 went down in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
It comes after two blue columns of light representing the towers illuminated the skies over Lower Manhattan in a vivid tribute on Wednesday night. This Tribute in Light will shine through the night, beginning at sundown Thursday and ending early Friday.
The memorial plaza will be closed to the public for most of the day and available only to family members. It will reopen at 6pm, at which point thousands of New Yorkers are expected to mark the anniversary at the twin reflecting pools where the towers once stood.
Rebuilding efforts at the site, where 2,753 people died, are nearing completion. The area, by turns a smoldering grave and an off-limits construction site for more than a decade, is now increasingly reconnected with the streets.
In May, when the museum opened in a ceremony attended by President Obama, the fences that had surrounded the plaza for years disappeared, as did the need for visitors to obtain a timed ticket. Now, thousands of people freely visit every day, from cellphone-toting travelers to workers on a lunch break, and those crowds will only swell further this year when One World Trade Center finally opens.
‘The memorial and museum is extremely important to those impacted on 9/11,’ said Mary Fetchet, whose son died in the attacks. ‘And surrounding that memorial, lower Manhattan has been revitalized.’
But for some who lost loved ones in the attacks, the increasing feel of a return to normalcy in the area threatens to obscure the tragedy that took place there and interfere with their grief.
‘Instead of a quiet place of reflection, it’s where kids are running around,’ said Nancy Nee, whose firefighter brother, George Cain, was killed in the attacks. ‘Some people forget this is a cemetery. I would never go to the Holocaust museum and take a selfie.’
For others, the changes are an important part of the healing process.
‘When I first saw (One World Trade Center), it really made my heart sing,’ said Debra Burlingame, whose brother Charles Burlingame was the pilot of the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. ‘It does every time I see it because it’s so symbolic of what the country went through.’
‘I want to see it bustling,’ she said. ‘I want to see more housing down there; I want to see it alive and bursting with businesses.’
Although the reconstruction has been plagued by delays, two of the new skyscrapers built around the site of the fallen twin towers are now open, while 1 World Trade Center, the tallest skyscraper in the Western hemisphere, is due to open later this year.
Some 300 miles southwest of Lower Manhattan, mourners will converge on the half-finished Flight 93 National Memorial, which marks the spot where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed after passengers fought back against hijackers. All 33 passengers and seven crew members were killed.
Gordon Felt, president of the Families of Flight 93 support group, said the spot is a living memorial to those who died and brings peace to a place where violence occurred. Felt’s oldest brother, Edward, 41, was among the passengers who died in the crash.
‘It helps one understand the juxtaposition of violence and peacefulness,’ Felt said of the memorial, and more specifically, the visitor center and learning center being built on a plateau overlooking the crash site. ‘It’s not just a 93-foot statue in the middle of the field. It’s a living memorial.’
The Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian award, honoring the passengers and crew who were aboard that flight, will go on public display for the first time Thursday, the National Park Service said.
Jeff Reinbold, the superintendent of the memorial, and Keith Newlin, his deputy, said it was important to the National Park Service for the memorial to give visitors multiple vistas from which to reflect on the events of that day, as well as a way to learn more about the crash.
A memorial plaza was completed in time for the 10th anniversary. It features a white stone wall with separate panels for each victim, with one name engraved on each. The wall traces the path of the doomed flight, and along with 40 groves of 40 trees are a way to focus attention on the crash site and the victims’ memories.
The centers under construction during the media tour are ‘more about how do we keep the story alive for future generations,’ Reinbold said.
Newlin said the visitor center’s structure should be complete by June, which will give park officials three months to install exhibits in time to open for the 14th anniversary of the crash.
The visitor center will have a window overlooking the crash site in the distance, Newlin said, ‘so people may not have to go to the crash site if they don’t feel they can handle it.’
The building will also have a gap in it, also offering a vista on the crash site. Newlin said architect Paul Murdoch designed the memorial so visitors can pause at various spots to view the site from the rolling fields that surround it, which help focus on the deeper meaning of the park.
Murdoch wanted visitors ‘to have as many opportunities to reflect on what happened here, and the healing nature of the site,’ Newlin said.
The visitor center’s concrete walls are being formed with molds that make the exterior look like the hemlock wood used on the sides of barns that dot the rural valley so the center fits with the landscape, Newlin said.
The earlier phase of the memorial, including the stone plaza wall and access roads, cost about $20.5million. The visitor and learning centers are earmarked at between $17million and $23million, Newlin said.
Still to be completed are a 93-foot tall tower with 40 wind chimes near the park’s entrance. The tower and other access roads should cost another $3million to $5million, with the total cost of the park at about $60 million, Newlin said. The government spent another $10million for the land.
In Washington DC on Thursday, the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial will be closed to the public until 11am for a private service for the victims’ families, which will begin at 9.30am. The commemoration will be hosted by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, with President Barack Obama scheduled to deliver an address.