US marks 9/11 anniversary at tributes shadowed by virus

NEW YORK (AP) — Americans commemorated 9/11 Friday as another national crisis reconfigured memorial ceremonies, dividing some victims’ families over coronavirus safety precautions, and a presidential campaign carved a path through the observances.

In New York, victims’ relatives gathered Friday morning for split-screen remembrances at the World Trade Center’s Sept. 11 memorial plaza and on a nearby corner, set up by separate organizations.

Standing on the plaza, with its serene waterfall pools and groves of trees, Jin Hee Cho said she couldn’t erase the memory of the death of her younger sister, Kyung, in the collapse of the trade center’s north tower.

“It’s just hard to delete that in my mind. I understand there’s all this, and I understand now that we have even COVID,“ said Cho, 55. ”But I only feel the loss, the devastating loss of my flesh-and-blood sister.”

Around the country, some communities canceled 9/11 ceremonies, while others went ahead, sometimes with modifications. The Pentagon’s observance was so restricted that not even victims’ families could attend, though small groups could visit its memorial later in the day.

On an anniversary that fell less than two months before the presidential election, President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden both headed for the Flight 93 National Memorial in the election battleground state of Pennsylvania — at different times of day. Biden also attended the ceremony at ground zero in New York, exchanging a pandemic-conscious elbow bump with Vice President Mike Pence before the observance began.

In short, the 19th anniversary of the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil was a complicated occasion in a maelstrom of a year, as the U.S. grapples with a pandemic, searches its soul over racial injustice and prepares to choose a leader to chart a path forward.

Still, families say it’s important for the nation to pause and remember the hijacked-plane attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people at the trade center, at the Pentagon outside Washington and in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 11, 2001 — shaping American policy, perceptions of safety and daily life in places from airports to office buildings.

Speaking at the Pennsylvania memorial, Trump recalled how the plane’s crew and passengers tried to storm the cockpit as the hijackers as headed for Washington.

“The heroes of Flight 93 are an everlasting reminder that no matter the danger, no matter the threat, no matter the odds, America will always rise up, stand tall, and fight back,” the Republican president said.

Biden visited the memorial later Friday, laid a wreath and greeted relatives of victims including First Officer LeRoy Homer. Biden expressed his respect for those aboard Flight 93, saying sacrifices like theirs “mark the character of a country.”

“This is a country that never, never, never, never, never, never gives up,” he said.

At the Sept. 11 memorial in New York hours earlier, Biden offered condolences to victims’ relatives including Amanda Barreto, 27, and 90-year-old Maria Fisher, empathizing with their loss of loved ones. Biden’s first wife and their daughter died in a car crash, and his son Beau died of brain cancer.

Biden didn’t speak at that ceremony, which has a longstanding custom of not allowing politicians to make remarks.

Pence went on to the separate ceremony, organized by the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, where he read the Bible’s 23rd Psalm. His wife, Karen, read a passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes.

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