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On a drizzly, overcast morning Monday, New Yorkers at ground zero in lower Manhattan recalled that crisp, clear late-summer morning 22 years ago with tolling bell, a moment of silence and quiet reflection.
Americans elsewhere also commemorated the deadliest attacks on U.S. soil, when hijacked planes slammed into the World Trade Center’s two towers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, killing nearly 3,000 people, events that reshaped American foreign and domestic policy. It also created, however briefly, a sense of national unity across the political spectrum rarely glimpsed today.
At ground zero, dignitaries at the ceremony on the National Sept. 11 Memorial plaza listened as family and friends of those killed read the names of the dead and delivered brief personal messages.
Some included patriotic declarations about American values and thanked first responders and the military. One lauded the Navy SEALs who killed al-Qaida leader and 9/11 plotter Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011. Another appealed for peace and justice. One acknowledged the many lives lost in the post-9/11 "War on Terror." And many shared reflections on missing loved ones.
"Though we never met, I am honored to carry your name and legacy with me," said Manuel João DaMota Jr., who was born after his father and namesake died.
To Gabrielle Gabrielli, reading names "is the biggest honor of my life." She lost her uncle and godfather, Richard Gabrielle.
"We have to keep the memory of everybody who died alive. This is their legacy," Gabrielli said, heading into the ceremony.
President Joe Biden, speaking at a military base in Anchorage, Alaska, urged Americans to rally around protecting democracy. His visit, en route to Washington from a trip to India and Vietnam, is a reminder that the impact of 9/11 was felt in every corner of the nation, however remote.
“We know that on this day, every American’s heart was wounded,” Biden said. "Yet every big city, small town, suburb, rural town, tribal community — American hands went up, ready to help where they could.”
Biden, a Democrat, became the first president to commemorate Sept. 11 in the western U.S. He and his predecessors have gone to one or another of the attack sites in most years, though Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama each marked the anniversary on the White House lawn at times, and Obama also visited Fort Meade in Maryland.
Warning of a rise in extremism and political violence, Biden told service members and their families that that “every generation has to fight” to preserve U.S. democracy.
"That’s why the terrorists targeted us in the first place – our freedom, our openness, our institutions. They failed. But we must remain vigilant,” he said.
First lady Jill Biden laid a wreath at the 9/11 memorial at the Pentagon, where a giant American flag hung over the side of the building. Earlier, bells tolled, and musicians played taps at 9:37 a.m., the time when one of the hijacked jets hit the military headquarters.
“As the years go by, it may feel that the world is moving on or even forgetting what happened here on Sept. 11, 2001,” but the Defense Department will always remember, Secretary Lloyd Austin said. He deployed to Iraq in the war that followed the attack.
The Chief contributed to this report.
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