“Eleven times we have marked another September 11th come and gone. Eleven times, we have paused in remembrance, in reflection, in unity and in purpose,” Obama said to families and military brass who gathered at the Pentagon, where 184 were killed. “This is never an easy day.”
At Arlington National Cemetery, the Obamas visited the graves in Section 60, one of the sections where those killed in Afghanistan and Iraq are buried under white marble markers.
They placed a “challenge coin” on a collective memorial to the victims of an Oct. 29, 2009, helicopter crash in Afghanistan.
At a ceremony in Manhattan, where One World Trade Center is under construction, the families of victims read the names of loved ones killed in the attacks, and traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange stood silent.
In Shanksville, Pa., where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in an open field after being hijacked by four terrorists, Vice President Biden spoke of the sacred, hallowed ground, weaving in his own experience of loss to comfort the families of the 40 passengers and crew members who died there.
“For no matter how many anniversaries you experience, for at least an instant, the terror of that moment returns; the lingering echo of that phone call; that sense of total disbelief that envelops you, where you feel like you’re being sucked into a black hole in the middle of your chest,” said Biden, whose first wife and baby daughter were killed in a car accident 40 years ago. “My hope for you all is that as every year passes, the depth of your pain recedes and you find comfort, as I have, genuine comfort in recalling his smile, her laugh, their touch.”
Thousands of miles away, in Kabul, troops prayed and reflected on the event that triggered America’s longest war.
In Reno, Nev., where he delivered a speech on foreign policy, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney shared his own memories from Sept. 11, 2001, when he was in Washington as the head of the Winter Olympic Games, meeting with members of Congress about security preparations for the Salt Lake City Games.
He said he watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center on a small television on his desk. Later, he recalled, he left Washington and passed by the Pentagon just after he crossed the Potomac River.
“Cars had stopped where they were and people had gotten out, watching in horror,” Romney said. “I could smell burning fuel and concrete and steel. It was the smell of war, something I never imagined I would smell in America.”