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A Day Of Remembrances And Reflection: 20 Years After The 9/11 Attacks

Family members and loved ones of victims of those who died on 9/11 attend the 20th anniversary commemoration ceremony on Saturday at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City.
Family members and loved ones of victims of those who died on 9/11 attend the 20th anniversary commemoration ceremony on Saturday at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City.

Updated September 11, 2021 at 10:09 AM ET

Twenty years to the day after a pair of hijacked airliners destroyed the World Trade Center towers, another plane punched a gaping hole in the Pentagon and a fourth passenger jet crashed in a Pennsylvania field after passengers sought to regain control from hijackers, Americans across the country reflected on the events that forever changed their country.

Nearly 3,000 people were killed on Sept. 11, 2001, which not only sparked enormously costly and largely unwinnable wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, but also spawned a domestic war on terrorism, rewriting the rules on security and surveillance in the U.S., the repercussions of which continue to reverberate.

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People were gathering in lower Manhattan at the National 9/11 Memorial at the spot where the twin towers once stood. Three presidents — President Biden, former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton and their wives, attended. They wore blue ribbons and held their hands over their hearts as a procession marched a flag through the memorial and stood somberly side by side as the names of the dead were read off by family members, punctuated by stories and remembrances.

Former President Bill Clinton (from left), former first lady Hillary Clinton, former President Barack Obama, former first lady Michelle Obama, President Biden, first lady Jill Biden, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, his partner Diana Taylor, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer stand for the national anthem at Saturday's ceremony in New York City.
Chip Somodevilla / Pool/AFP/Getty Images
Former President Bill Clinton (from left), former first lady Hillary Clinton, former President Barack Obama, former first lady Michelle Obama, President Biden, first lady Jill Biden, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, his partner Diana Taylor, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer stand for the national anthem at Saturday's ceremony in New York City.

The president and first lady also met with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his partner Diana Taylor, according to the White House. They greeted FBI Director Christopher Wray, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the New York congressional delegation and many other current and former state and local officials as they arrived at the memorial.

Vice President Harris and second gentlemen Douglas Emhoff were en route to Shanksville, Pa., where they will mark the morning along with former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush. Harris and Biden will both be at the Pentagon later this afternoon with their spouses.

Port Authority Police officers attend the annual commemoration ceremony at the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum on Sept. 11, 2021 in New York City.
Chip Somodevilla / POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Port Authority Police officers attend the annual commemoration ceremony at the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum on Sept. 11, 2021 in New York City.

The Bidens were also expected to attend wreath-laying ceremonies at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pa., where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed. Former President George W. Bush was also due at the Pennsylvania memorial.

Former President Donald Trump released a video message Saturday morning, largely lambasting Biden's handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Trump, who visited Shanksville on Friday, is also expected to visit ground zero Saturday afternoon before delivering ringside commentary at a boxing match at a casino in Hollywood, Fla.

See more NPR coverage of the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Claudia Castano (right) touches the name of her brother German that is etched at the Empty Sky 9/11 Memorial in Liberty State Park in Jersey City, N.J., on September 11, 2021.
Roberto Schmidt / AFP/Getty Images
Claudia Castano (right) touches the name of her brother German that is etched at the Empty Sky 9/11 Memorial in Liberty State Park in Jersey City, N.J., on September 11, 2021.

At ground zero, the national anthem was performed in a solemn ceremony and then, in what has become an annual tradition, a moment of silence was observed at 8:46 a.m., when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the north tower.

Another moment of silence was observed at 9:03 a.m., when United Flight 175 hit the south tower. Bruce Springsteen, with an acoustic guitar and harmonica, took the dais to perform I'll See You In My Dreams. Then more names were read. More than 2,600 people were killed in and around the World Trade Center buildings.

A man mourns Saturday at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Mike Segar / Pool/Getty Images
A man mourns Saturday at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

A third moment of silence was observed at 9:37 a.m., marking when American Airlines flight 77 careened into the west face of the Pentagon, where 184 people died. A ceremony there was hosted by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley.

In London, acting ambassador to the United Kingdom Philip Reeker, attended a special changing of the guard at Windsor Castle, where the U.S. national anthem was performed. Reeker said Americans would be "forever grateful" for the "enduring friendship" between the two countries.

Soldiers wait below an American flag prior to the start of the Pentagon 9/11 observance ceremony at the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial on Saturday in Arlington, Va.
Win McNamee / Getty Images
Soldiers wait below an American flag prior to the start of the Pentagon 9/11 observance ceremony at the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial on Saturday in Arlington, Va.

Speaking on Friday, Biden said in the days after the attacks in 2001, "we saw heroism everywhere — in places expected and unexpected."

"We also saw something all too rare: a true sense of national unity," he said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

A rose lays on a bench at the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial on Sept. 11, 2021, in Arlington, Virginia.
Win McNamee / Getty Images
A rose lays on a bench at the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial on Sept. 11, 2021, in Arlington, Virginia.

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