Biden embraces message of unity on 9/11 anniversary
From an urban memorial to a remote field to the heart of the nation's military might, U.S. President Joe Biden on Saturday paid tribute at three hallowed places of grief and remembrance to honor the lives lost two decades ago in the terror attacks.
U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden participate in a wreath ceremony on the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks at the Pentagon in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, standing at the National Pentagon Memorial site, which commemorates the lives lost at the Pentagon and onboard American Airlines Flight 77. [Photo: AP]
The solemn day of commemoration offered frequent reminders for Americans of a time when they united in the face of unimaginable tragedy. That fading spirit of was invoked most forcefully by the president at the time of the attacks, George W. Bush, who said, "That is the America I know," in stark contrast to the bitterly divided nation Biden now leads.
Biden left the speech-making to others, paying his respects at the trio of sites in New York, Pennsylvania and outside Washington where four hijacked planes crashed on Sept. 11, 2001, killing nearly 3,000 people, shattering the nation's sense of security and launching the country into two decades of warfare.
Biden wiped away a tear as he stood in silence at the site where the World Trade Center towers fell, and looked up at the haunting sound of a jet plane under clear blue skies reminiscent of that fateful day.
In a grassy field in Pennsylvania, Biden comforted family members gathered at a stone boulder near Shanksville that marked where passengers brought down a hijacked plane that had been headed for the nation's capital. At the Pentagon, Biden and his wife, Jill, took a moment of silence before a wreath studded with white, purple and red flowers on display in front of the memorial benches that mark the victims of the attack at the military headquarters.
Delivering Bud Light and appreciation to the Shanksville Volunteer Fire Department, which responded to the crash of United Flight 93, Biden praised Bush's comments in his only public remarks of the day, saying the Republican "made a really good speech today – genuinely," and wondered aloud what those who died that day would think of today's rancor.
Gesturing to a cross-shaped memorial made of steel from the twin towers adjacent to the firehouse, Biden reflected: “I'm thinking what, what what would the people who died, what would they be thinking. Would they think this makes sense for us to be doing this kind of thing where you ride down the street and someone has a sign saying 'f- so-and-so?'"
It was a reference to an explicit sign attacking Biden last week in New Jersey as he toured storm damage that was displayed by supporters of former President Donald Trump. Biden expressed incredulity at recent comments by Trump, whom he accused of abandoning the nation's ideals during his time in office.
"Everyone says, 'Biden, why do you keep insisting on trying to bring the country together?'" the president told reporters. “That's the thing that’s going to affect our well-being more than anything else.”
In a frequent refrain of his presidency warning of the rise of autocracies, he added, "Are we going to, in the next four, five, six, ten years, demonstrate that democracies can work, or not?"
At ground zero in New York City, Biden stood side by side with former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton at the National September 11 Memorial as the names of the dead were read aloud by their loved ones. Each man wore a blue ribbon and held his hand 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.
Bush, delivering the keynote address in Shanksville, lamented that “so much of our politics have become a naked appeal to anger, fear and resentment.”