9/11 anniversary: Joe Biden meets victims’ families in Shanksville

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Joe Biden visited the Flight 93 National Memorial on Friday afternoon shortly after President Trump paid tribute to the victims of the 9/11 plane crash in Pennsylvania – as both candidates vied to show leadership on 19th anniversary of the terror attacks. 

Hours after attending a memorial service in New York City, Biden and wife Jill traveled to the memorial where the former vice president laid a wreath and greeted relatives of one of the slain crew members, First Officer LeRoy Homer.  

Wearing a mask and practicing social distancing, Biden greeted Homer’s family with elbow bumps before going on to meet another family of a victim, as well as a young bagpipe player, whom he asked about her college plans.

He spoke about his respect for the passengers on the flight that sacrificed themselves to help bring it down, and said sacrifices like theirs ‘mark the character of a country.’

‘This is a country that never, never, never, never, never, never gives up,’ Biden said.

Joe Biden and his wife Jill traveled to the Flight 93 National Memorial shortly after attending a 9/11 memorial ceremony in New York City, and Trump's speech in Shanksville

Joe Biden and his wife Jill traveled to the Flight 93 National Memorial shortly after attending a 9/11 memorial ceremony in New York City, and Trump’s speech in Shanksville

Biden was seen laying a wreath under the name of one of the slain crew members, First Officer LeRoy Homer. The Democratic candidate pledged not to make any news during the day with the November 3 election now less than two months away

Biden was seen laying a wreath under the name of one of the slain crew members, First Officer LeRoy Homer. The Democratic candidate pledged not to make any news during the day with the November 3 election now less than two months away

Biden and his wife, Jill, greeted Camal Wilson and Cheryl Homer-Wilson after laying a wreath in front of her brother, Leroy Homer's name at the Wall of Names following a ceremony at the Flight 93 National Memorial

Biden and his wife, Jill, greeted Camal Wilson and Cheryl Homer-Wilson after laying a wreath in front of her brother, Leroy Homer’s name at the Wall of Names following a ceremony at the Flight 93 National Memorial

Unlike the president, Biden did not deliver a speech at the memorial. The presidential candidate spoke with relatives of victims who lost their lives in the attack

Unlike the president, Biden did not deliver a speech at the memorial. The presidential candidate spoke with relatives of victims who lost their lives in the attack

‘Don’t ever underestimate one of the marks of being an American is understanding there’s some things that are bigger and more important than yourself,’ he added.  

Biden then visited the Shanksville Volunteer Fire Department, where he delivered a bundt cake and pastries to a couple of firefighters.

About two dozen community members were gathered to see the former Vice President and his wife. 

Biden said that the last time he was there, he said he’d bring beer – and he came through, presenting two six packs to a group of firefighters there.

The volunteer fire department were among the several rescue crews that responded to the site of the crash in a field in Shanksville 19 years ago. 

The Democratic candidate’s interactions with families on Friday appeared to show Biden is edging back into his element, as a politician who thrives on personal interaction and expressing empathy with fellow Americans. 

Biden earlier attended the 9/11 Memorial & Museum’s annual commemoration at Ground Zero in New York, along with Vice President Mike Pence.  

Meanwhile, President Trump traveled to the memorial site in Pennsylvania where he struck a somber tone as he paid tribute to the 40 passengers and crew killed aboard Flight 93.

Despite the election being less than two months away, Biden pledged not to make any news during the day and insisted that he would steer clear of politics on a national day of mourning.

Biden spoke with Flight 93 victim Loraine Bay's family at the memorial. Earlier in the day the Bidens attended a remembrance ceremony at the September 11 National Memorial in New York City

Biden spoke with Flight 93 victim Loraine Bay’s family at the memorial. Earlier in the day the Bidens attended a remembrance ceremony at the September 11 National Memorial in New York City

Man of the people: Biden's visit on Friday appeared to show him edging back into his element, as a politician who thrives on personal interaction and expressing empathy with fellow Americans

Man of the people: Biden’s visit on Friday appeared to show him edging back into his element, as a politician who thrives on personal interaction and expressing empathy with fellow Americans

The former VP visited the Shanksville Volunteer Fire Department, where he delivered a Bundt cake and pastries to a couple of firefighters

The former VP visited the Shanksville Volunteer Fire Department, where he delivered a Bundt cake and pastries to a couple of firefighters

Biden said that the last time he was there, he said he'd bring beer - and he came through, presenting two six packs to a group of firefighters there

Biden said that the last time he was there, he said he’d bring beer – and he came through, presenting two six packs to a group of firefighters there

About two dozen community members were gathered to see the former Vice President and his wife

About two dozen community members were gathered to see the former Vice President and his wife

While Trump and Biden’s visit did not overlap, Pence and Biden’s did. In a rare moment of detente, Biden was seen approaching Pence after arriving at the New York City ceremony and tapping him on the shoulder to say hello. 

Wearing masks, the current and former vice president then shared an elbow bump – the popular COVID-era handshake replacement – as did Biden and second lady Karen Pence.

Although the candidates and country will be focused on the commemorations, the political significance of the two candidates’ visits to Shanksville is hard to ignore, with Pennsylvania being a crucial battleground state. 

Victims’ relatives gathered for split-screen remembrances, one at the September 11 memorial plaza at the World Trade Center and another on a nearby corner, set up by a separate organization. 

The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation objected to the memorial’s decision to forgo a longstanding tradition of having relatives read the names of the dead, often adding poignant tributes.  

Memorial leaders said they made the change as a coronavirus-safety precaution on the 19th anniversary of the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil. 

At the September 11 Memorial and Museum, mourners stood silently as they listened to a pre-recorded reading of the names – a plan that organizers felt would avoid close contact at a stage but still allow families to remember their loved ones at the place where they died.

Earlier, Joe Biden greeted Vice President Mike Pence, as Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, far left, looks on at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum Friday morning

Earlier, Joe Biden greeted Vice President Mike Pence, as Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, far left, looks on at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum Friday morning

In New York City, Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden and wife Jill, stood alongside Governor Andrew Cuomo during a pre-recorded reading of the names ceremony on Fridayv

In New York City, Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden and wife Jill, stood alongside Governor Andrew Cuomo during a pre-recorded reading of the names ceremony on Friday

The Tunnel to Towers Foundation arranged its own, simultaneous ceremony a few blocks away, saying there was no reason that people couldn’t recite names while keeping a safe distance. 

Reverence for the dead ‘requires that we read these names out loud, in person, every year,’ said foundation chair Frank Siller, whose brother Stephen was a firefighter.

The readers stood at podiums that were wiped down between each person.

Biden offered condolences to a woman he spotted crying in the crowd of hundreds, Amanda Barreto, who lost her aunt and godmother in the attacks. 

Barreto, 27, said Biden ‘wanted to let me know to keep the faith’ and ‘wanted me to say strong,’ telling her he understood what it meant to lose a loved one. His first wife and their daughter died in a 1972 car crash, and his son Beau died of brain cancer in 2015.

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

He also told the reporters traveling with him what the day means to him: ‘It means I remember all my friends that I lost.’

‘It takes a lot of courage for someone that lost someone to come back today,’ Biden continued. ‘I know from experience, losing my wife, my daughter, my son, you relive it, the moment as if it’s happening. It’s hard.

The president paid tribute to the 40 Americans who died on United Flight 93 when they brought down the plane in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania before al-Qaeda hijackers could reach Washington

The president paid tribute to the 40 Americans who died on United Flight 93 when they brought down the plane in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania before al-Qaeda hijackers could reach Washington 

U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump stood together during a ceremony at the Flight 93 National Memorial, remembering those killed when the hijacked flight crashed into an open field on September 11, 2001

 U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump stood together during a ceremony at the Flight 93 National Memorial, remembering those killed when the hijacked flight crashed into an open field on September 11, 2001

Just outside Shanksville is the 2,200-acre Flight 93 National Memorial Park, which marks the spot where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field on September 11, 2001, killing all 40 civilians and four al-Qaeda hijackers on board

Just outside Shanksville is the 2,200-acre Flight 93 National Memorial Park, which marks the spot where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field on September 11, 2001, killing all 40 civilians and four al-Qaeda hijackers on board

‘It’s a wonderful memorial, but it’s hard. It just brings you back to the moment it happened, no matter how long, how much time passes. So I admire the families who come.’ 

Meanwhile, Pence went on to the Tunnel to Towers Foundation ceremony, where he read the Bible’s 23rd Psalm, and his wife, Karen, read a passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes.

‘For the families of the lost and friends they left behind, I pray these ancient words will comfort your heart and others,’ said the vice president, drawing applause from the crowd of hundreds. 

In a sobering and patriotic speech at the national memorial in Pennsylvania, Trump praised the ’40 towering patriots’ who he said ‘took charge and changed the course of history forever’ as al Qaeda hijackers were flying the plane toward 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 president said.

‘The only thing that stood between the enemy and a deadly strike at the heart of American democracy was the courage and resolve of 40 men and women.’

‘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,’ he said.

‘In their memory, we resolve to stand united as one American nation, to defend our freedoms – to uphold our values – to love our neighbors – to cherish our country – to care for our communities – to honor our heroes – and to never forget.’

After he spoke, he and first lady Melania Trump laid a wreath at the Flight 93 Memorial, which contains the names of those who died. A bag piper played ‘Amazing Grace.’

During his remarks, the president also paid tribute to the members of the military that lost their lives in the wake of the terrorists attacks.

Just outside Shanksville is the 2,200-acre Flight 93 National Memorial Park, which marks the spot where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field on September 11, 2001, killing all 40 civilians and four al-Qaeda hijackers on board

Just outside Shanksville is the 2,200-acre Flight 93 National Memorial Park, which marks the spot where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field on September 11, 2001, killing all 40 civilians and four al-Qaeda hijackers on board

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump pause for a moment of silence on Air Force One as he arrives at the airport in Johnstown, Pa., on his way to speak at the Flight 93 National Memorial, Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, in Shanksville, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump pause for a moment of silence on Air Force One as he arrives at the airport in Johnstown, Pa., on his way to speak at the Flight 93 National Memorial, Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, in Shanksville, Pa. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

‘More than 7,000 Military Heroes have laid down their lives since 9/11 to preserve our freedom,’ Trump said. 

‘No words can express the summit of their glory or the infinite depth of our gratitude. But we will strive every single day to repay our immeasurable debt and prove worthy of their supreme sacrifice.’

Trump also offered words to the unit the country on its day of mourning.

‘We were united by our conviction that America was the world’s most exceptional country, blessed with the most incredible heroes, and that this was a land worth defending with our very last breath. It was a unity based on love for our families, care for our neighbors, loyalty to our fellow citizens, pride in our flag, gratitude for our police and first responders, faith in God – and a refusal to bend our will to the depraved forces of violence, intimidation, oppression and evil,’ he said. 

‘When terrorists raced to destroy the seat of our democracy, the 40 of flight 93 did the most American of things, they took a vote and then they acted,’ Trump added. 

Trump’s visit kicked off a day of memorial services expected to take place at the memorial sites of the 9/11 attacks in Pennsylvania, New York City and at the Pentagon in Washington, as well as across the country. 

Earlier, the president and first lady Melania Trump also observed a moment of silence aboard Air Force One at 8.46am, marking the time the first plane hit the World Trade Center 19 years ago. 

In short, the anniversary of 9/11 is a complicated occasion in a maelstrom of a year, as the U.S. grapples with a health crisis, 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 in Washington and near Shanksville on September 11, 2001 – shaping American policy, perceptions of safety and daily life in places from airports to office buildings.

Around the country, some communities canceled 9/11 commemorations because of the pandemic, while others went ahead, sometimes with modifications.

The Pentagon’s observance was so restricted that not even victims families could attend, though small groups can visit the memorial there later in the day. 

The National Park Service, which co-hosts the annual Flight 93 memorial event in Pennsylvania, had originally said it was planning an abbreviated ceremony this year to minimize the spread of the coronavirus, with no keynote speaker or musical guests.

But after Biden and then the White House announced their plans to visit, the agency’s website was updated to reflect a new schedule that included remarks from Trump and the secretary of the interior.

None of the appearances featured prominent political showmanship, though the ceremonies were closely followed by the media and gave the candidates what political scientist Robert Shapiro dubbed a chance to ‘show their leadership and empathy.’

The choice of Trump and Biden to both head to Pennsylvania, a vital election battleground state, illustrates the ‘obvious calculations’ their advisors have made, the Columbia University scholar said.

In 2016, the 9/11 memorial events became a flashpoint in the presidential campaign after then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton abruptly left the Ground Zero ceremony and was seen stumbling as she tried to get into a van. 

Trump, who spoke repeatedly of that during the campaign, also spent the day in New York and paid his own visit to the memorial in Lower Manhattan.

Friday was Trump’s second time observing the anniversary in Shanksville, where he made remarks in 2018. Biden spoke at the memorial’s dedication in 2011, when he was vice president.

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