NEW YORK—Americans looked back Monday on 9/11 with moments of silence, tearful words, and appeals to teach younger generations about the terror attacks 22 years ago.
“For those of us who lost people on that day, that day is still happening. Everybody else moves on. And you find a way to go forward, but that day is always happening for you,” Edward Edelman said as he arrived at New York’s World Trade Center to honor his slain brother-in-law, Daniel McGinley.
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,” President Biden said. “Yet every big city, small town, suburb, rural town, tribal community—American hands went up, ready to help where they could.”
Nearly 3,000 people were killed when hijacked planes crashed into the trade center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, in an attack that reshaped American foreign policy and domestic fears.
On that day, “we were one country, one nation, one people, just like it should be,” Eddie Ferguson, the fire-rescue chief in Virginia’s Goochland County, said by phone before the anniversary.
The predominantly rural county of 25,000 people has a Sept. 11 memorial and holds two anniversary commemorations, one focused on first responders and another honoring all the victims.
At ground zero, Vice President Kamala Harris joined other dignitaries at the ceremony on the National Sept. 11 Memorial plaza. Instead of remarks from political figures, the event features victims reading the names of the dead and delivering 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-Qaeda 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,” Ms. Gabrielli said, heading into the ceremony.
President 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 President George W. Bush and Democrat President Barack Obama each marked the anniversary on the White House lawn at times, and President Obama also visited Fort Meade in Maryland.
Warning of a rise in extremism and political violence, President 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.
Ms. Harris’s husband, Doug Emhoff, laid a wreath at the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where another plane crashed after passengers tried to storm the cockpit. Earlier Monday at the memorial, a rabbi from Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, where a gunman killed 11 worshippers in 2018, called for ensuring that younger people know about 9/11.
“With memory comes responsibility, the determination to share our stories with this next generation, so that through them, our loved ones continue to live,” Rabbi Jeffrey Myers said. The memorial is offering a new educational video, virtual tour and other materials for classroom use.
Many Americans did volunteer work on what Congress has designated both Patriot Day and a National Day of Service and Remembrance. Others gathered for anniversary events at memorials, firehouses, city halls, campuses, and elsewhere.
In Iowa, a march set off at 9:11 a.m. Monday from suburban Waukee to the state Capitol in Des Moines. In Columbus, Indiana, observances include a remembrance message sent to police, fire and EMS radios. New Jersey’s Monmouth County, which was home to some 9/11 victims, this year made Sept. 11 a holiday for county employees so they could attend commemorations.
Pepperdine University’s campus in Malibu, California, displayed one American flag for each victim, plus the flags of every other country that lost a citizen on 9/11. Reflecting the tragedy’s scope, U.N. General Assembly President Dennis Francis exhorted world nations Monday to counter extremism, build tolerance, “join hands and say never again.”
Fenton, Missouri, is more than 650 miles from the attack sites. But the St. Louis suburb, population 4,000, holds an anniversary ceremony at a memorial that includes steel from the World Trade Center’s fallen twin towers and a plaque honoring Jessica Leigh Sachs, a 9/11 victim with relatives in town.
“We’re just a little bitty community,” Mayor Joe Maurath said ahead of the anniversary, but “it’s important for us to continue to remember these events. Not just 9/11, but all of the events that make us free.”
By Jennifer Peltz and Karen Matthews