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United States

US marks September 11 with sombre tributes, new monument to victims

Some relatives of the dead have called on politicians to stop referring to the 2001 attacks, saying they should not be politicised

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 September, 2018, 11:29pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 September, 2018, 6:30am

Americans commemorated the attacks that occurred in the US on September 11, 2001, with sombre tributes, volunteer projects and a new monument to victims on Tuesday.

Margie Miller was among the thousands of victims’ relatives, survivors, rescuers and others who gathered on a misty morning at the memorial plaza where the World Trade Centre’s twin towers once stood. She came to the site from her home in suburban Baldwin, New York, as she does 10 or so times a year, to remember her husband, Joel Miller. Only a few fragments of his remains were recovered.

“To me, he is here. This is my holy place,” his widow said before the ceremony, which began with a moment of silence and tolling bells at 8.46am, the time when the trade centre was hit by the first of two planes 17 years ago. Some relatives of the dead held up signs featuring photographs of their loved ones.

US President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence attended events at the two other sites where hijacked planes crashed on September 11.

The president and first lady Melania Trump flew to Pennsylvania for a memorial in a field near Shanksville, where a new Tower of Voices monument was dedicated on Saturday. Pence attended a ceremony at the Pentagon.

Trump, a Republican and New Yorker, took the occasion of the anniversary last year to issue a stern warning to extremists that “America cannot be intimidated”.

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A group of supporters met him as he arrived in Pennsylvania, prompting the president to smile before raising both fists and clenching his jaw in a celebratory gesture. Afterward, critics condemned him for a “lack of respect” and an “inability to feel empathy for another person’s loss”.

Trump was also photographed giving a thumbs-up as he toured the memorial to the 40 Flight 93 victims.

Nearly 3,000 people died in the September 11 attacks, when international terrorism hit home in a way it previously had not for most Americans.

The day still shapes American policy, politics and everyday experiences in places from airports to office buildings, even if it is less of a constant presence in the public consciousness after 17 years.

“You don’t want to live in fear, but it is very real,” Miller said.

Debra Sinodinos, who lost her firefighter cousin Peter Carroll and works near the trade centre, said she tried not to let terror attacks unnerve her.

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“You have to move on,” she said as she headed into the anniversary ceremony with her extended family. “Otherwise you’d live in fear.”

The September 11 commemorations are by now familiar rituals revolving around the reading of the names of the dead. But each year at ground zero, victims’ relatives infuse the ceremony with personal messages of remembrance, inspiration and concern.

For Nicholas Haros Jnr, that concern is officials who make comparisons to September 11 or invoke it for political purposes.

“Stop. Stop,” pleaded Haros, who lost his 76-year-old mother, Frances. “Please stop using the bones and ashes of our loved ones as props in your political theatre. Their lives, sacrifices and deaths are worth so much more. Let’s not trivialise them.”

This year’s anniversary came as a heated midterm election cycle kicks into high gear. But there have long been efforts to separate the solemn anniversary from politics.

The group 9/11 Day, which promotes volunteering on the anniversary, routinely asks candidates not to campaign or run political ads for the day.

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Organisers of the ground zero ceremony allow politicians to attend, but they have been barred since 2011 from reading names or delivering remarks.

The names are read by victims’ loved ones, some of whom were not yet born when the attacks happened.

“Even though I never met you, I’ll never forget you,” Isabella Del Corral said of her grandfather Joseph Piskadlo.

Hours after the ceremony, two powerful beams of light will soar into the night sky from lower Manhattan in the annual “Tribute in Light”.

Memorials to September 11 continue to grow at Shanksville, where the Tower of Voices will eventually include a wind chime for each of the 40 people killed there, and ground zero, where work is to begin soon on a pathway honouring rescue and recovery workers.

It will serve as a way to honour those who became sick or died from exposure to toxins released when the Trade Centre’s twin towers collapsed. Researchers have documented elevated rates of respiratory ailments, post-traumatic stress disorder and other illnesses among people who spent time in the rubble trying to recover the dead.

About 38,500 people have applied to a compensation fund, and more than US$3.9 billion in claims have been approved.