NEW YORK — The mourners entering the plaza wore face masks, and the teary, intimate hugs of years past were replaced by awkwardly choreographed fist bumps. When the bells tolled at 8:46 a.m., marking the moment the first jet smashed into the north tower 19 years ago, those gathered stood at somber attention, trying to draw comfort from neighbors required to stand 6 feet apart.
The solemn ceremonies held at and near the Sept. 11 memorial in lower Manhattan on Friday provided a poignant resonance in the face of a pandemic that has crippled the country for months and brought particularly devastating loss to New York City.
Outside the memorial plaza, a widow holding a picture of her husband admitted that the anxiety she normally felt on this anniversary was compounded by her fears over the coronavirus. A woman who lost her cousin when the twin towers fell equated the dedication of rescue workers in 2001 with the toil of health care professionals this year.
Even the notable politicians who attended, including Vice President Mike Pence and Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate for president, made concessions to the current threat. They, too, wore masks, gave no speeches and distanced themselves as they stood among the crowd.
It has been 19 years since passenger jets hijacked by terrorists slammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 lives were lost in the deadliest attack in the country’s history.
After the memorial in New York, Biden traveled to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, also attended a memorial service.
“Our sacred task, our righteous duty and our solemn pledge is to carry forward the noble legacy of the brave souls who gave their lives for us 19 years ago,” Trump said.
Pence and his wife, Karen, also appeared at the ceremony held by the Tunnel to Towers Foundation at Zuccotti Park, where around 125 relatives of 9/11 victims read the names of those who died on a stage, sharing emotional messages to those they lost.
Pence then went to pay a visit to Ladder Company 10 and Engine Company 10, the fire units stationed closest to the World Trade Center and that were among first to respond to the attack.