Political and religious leaders urged the nation to recall the spirit of common purpose that defined that day and its immediate aftermath but which has faded amid the acrimonious debate over America’s response to the attacks and the effect that response has had on the nation’s politics, finances and values.
Around the world, U.S. troops marked the anniversary in small, solemn ceremonies, while a number of countries expressed solidarity with the United States in the enduring fight against terrorism. Star-spangled ribbons were visible nearly everywhere — from survivors’ lapels to the jerseys of NFL players on the season’s opening weekend.
Remembrances ranged from the gravely hopeful, delivered by a political cross-section of elected leaders, to the heartbreakingly intimate — a surviving son’s regret for never having received his father’s advice on how to ask a girl on a date, a daughter’s teary message to her father that she would never forget him.
But amid the recollections were reminders that the war that began suddenly a decade ago continues. The Afghan Taliban, whose government harbored al-Qaeda before the attacks and was overthrown by the U.S. invasion that followed, rammed a truck packed with explosives into a military base in eastern Afghanistan, wounding nearly 80 NATO soldiers.
Security in New York City and Washington remained heightened in light of the threat of a vehicle-bomb attack on the anniversary. An FBI official said Sunday that law enforcement agencies had not discounted the threat, which continued to be investigated.
Beginning in Lower Manhattan, President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama paid respects at each of the attack sites, in a long day of mostly silent, symbolic tribute. At the culminating event at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Obama called on the country to “honor those who have been lost” and “rededicate ourselves to the ideals that define our nation.”
“In the decade since, much has changed for Americans,” he said. “We’ve known war and recession, passionate debates and political divides. We can never get back the lives we lost on that day, or the Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice in the wars that followed.”
“Yet today, it is worth remembering what has not changed,” he continued. “Our character as a nation has not changed. Our faith — in God and each other — that has not changed.”
At Ground Zero, where it began a decade ago, thousands of relatives of those who died in the World Trade Center towers turned out under clear skies that clouded as the memorial program began.
The ceremony connected six prolonged silences — commemorating the moments, a decade ago, of the plane crashes in Lower Manhattan, at the Pentagon and in a field on the outskirts of Shanksville, Pa., and the collapse of the towers, 29 minutes apart, that forever altered America’s skyline and comfortable sense of its place in the world.