Americans remembered September 11 on Sunday with readings of victims’ names, volunteer work and other tributes 21 years after the deadliest terror attack on US soil.
A tolling bell and a moment of silence began the commemoration at ground zero in New York, where the World Trade Center’s twin towers were destroyed by the hijacked-plane attacks of September 11, 2001, in the deadliest terror attack on US soil.
Victims’ relatives and dignitaries also convened at the two other attack sites, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.
US President Joe Biden laid a wreath at the Pentagon in a sombre commemoration held under a steady rain.
Other communities around the country are marking the day with candlelight vigils, interfaith services and other commemorations. Some Americans are joining in volunteer projects on a day that is federally recognised as both Patriot Day and a National Day of Service and Remembrance.
The observances follow a fraught milestone anniversary last year. It came weeks after the chaotic and humbling end of the Afghanistan war that the US launched in response to the attacks.
But if this September 11 may be less of an inflection point, it remains a point for reflection on the attack that killed nearly 3,000 people, spurred a US “war on terror” worldwide and reconfigured national security policy.
It also stirred – for a time – a sense of national pride and unity for many, while subjecting Muslim-Americans to years of suspicion and bigotry and engendering debate over the balance between safety and civil liberties. In ways both subtle and plain, the aftermath of September 11 ripples through American politics and public life to this day.
And the attacks have cast a long shadow into the personal lives of thousands of people who survived, responded or lost loved ones, friends and colleagues.
More than 70 of Sekou Siby’s co-workers perished at Windows on the World, the restaurant atop the trade centre’s north tower. Siby had been scheduled to work that morning until another cook asked him to switch shifts.
Siby never took a restaurant job again; it would have brought back too many memories. The Ivorian immigrant wrestled with how to comprehend such horror in a country where he’d come looking for a better life.
He found it difficult to form the type of close, family-like friendships he and his Windows on the World co-workers had shared. It was too painful, he had learned, to become attached to people when “you have no control over what’s going to happen to them next”.
“Every 9/11 is a reminder of what I lost that I can never recover,” says Siby, who is now president and CEO of ROC United. The restaurant workers’ advocacy group evolved from a relief centre for Windows on the World workers who lost their jobs when the twin towers fell.