By Zeke Miller, Alexandra Jaffe and Jonathan Lemire
NEW YORK (AP) – Three presidents and their wives stood shoulder to shoulder, sharing a moment of silence to mark the anniversary of the nation’s worst terror attack with a show of unity at the national September 11 memorial.
Presidents Joe Biden, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton all gathered at the site where the World Trade Center towers fell two decades ago. Each of them wore blue ribbons and placed their hands on their hearts as the procession marched a flag through the memorial, which was witnessed by hundreds of Americans who gathered for remembrance, some of loved ones lost in the attacks. Took pictures.
Before the event began, a jet took off in a terrifying echo of strikes, drawing a gaze skyward from Biden.
Biden was a senator when the hijackers took command of four planes and carried out the attack. Now he is celebrating the anniversary of 9/11 for the first time as Commander in Chief.
The president will pay tribute on Saturday at all three sites where the planes crashed, but he left it to others to deliver the speech.
Instead, the White House released a taped address late Friday in which Biden spoke of the “true sense of national unity” that emerged after the attacks, which were “viewed in heroism everywhere – in places expected and unexpected.” “
“For me this is the central lesson of September 11th,” he said. “Unity is our greatest strength.”
Biden arrived in New York on Friday night as the skyline was illuminated by the “Tribute in Light” where the towers once stood.
After the morning ceremony in New York City, Biden will tour the grounds near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where a plane fell from the sky after heroic passengers battled terrorists to prevent them from reaching their Washington destination. And finally, he will go to the Pentagon, where the most powerful army in the world has suffered an unimaginable blow to his home.
Biden’s task, like his predecessors before him, was to mark this moment with a mixture of grief and resolve. A man who has suffered immense personal tragedy, Biden speaks of loss with power.
He voiced the pain that comes with memories of 9/11 in his video message, saying, “No matter how much time has passed, this commemoration brings everything back from the pain as if you just got the news a few seconds ago. Be.”
Robert Gibbs, who served as Obama’s press secretary, said for Biden, “This is a moment for the people to see him not as the Democratic President, but as the President of the United States of America.”
“The American people are somewhat conflicted about what they have seen from Afghanistan over the past few weeks,” Gibbs said. “For Biden, this is the moment to try to reset some of that. Remind people what it is to be Commander-in-Chief and what it means to be the leader of the country in a moment of such importance. “
On the 20th anniversary of the attacks, Biden now bears the responsibility borne by his predecessors to prevent future tragedy, and does so against fresh fears of a surge in terror following the United States’ hasty exit from Afghanistan. The country from which the September 11 attacks were plotted.
Biden is the fourth president to console the nation on the anniversary of that dark day, which has shaped the most consequential domestic and foreign policy decisions made by chief executives in the past two decades.
The terrorist attack defined the presidency of George W. Bush, who was reading a book to Florida schoolchildren when planes crashed into the World Trade Center. He kept that day out of Washington for security reasons – a decision spent by then-Sen. Biden urged them to reconsider, the current president has written — and then delivered a brief, paused speech from the White House that night to a terrified nation.
The following year, Bush chose Ellis Island as his first anniversary address to bear the Statue of Liberty on his shoulder, as he swore, “What our enemies have started, we will finish.”
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were even deadlier when Obama visited the Pentagon in 2009 to mark his first September 11 office.
“No words can ease your heartache,” he said.
“We miss the beauty and meaning of his life,” he said. “No time passes, no dark sky can diminish the meaning of that moment.”
By the time Obama spoke on the 10th anniversary, the mastermind of the attack, Osama bin Laden, was dead, having been killed in a May 2011 Navy SEAL raid. Though the nation remained embroiled overseas, and remained alert to terror threats, the anniversary became more about healing.
President Donald Trump vowed to get America out of Afghanistan, but his words during his first September 11 anniversary celebration in 2017 were a vivid warning to terrorists, “telling these ruthless killers that someone beyond our reach.” There is no dark corner, no sanctuary. Our understanding, and nowhere to hide on this vast earth.”
On Saturday, as Biden was visiting all three sites, Bush was to pay his respects in Shanksville. Trump planned at least one stop in Manhattan and was to give ringside commentary on a boxing match at a casino in Hollywood, Florida.
Associated Press writer Alexandra Jaffe in Washington contributed to this report.