Much has changed in the 13 years since four hijacked airliners crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, and a Shanksville, Pa., field, killing nearly 3,000 people and shocking the nation.
Twin reflecting pools now mark the spot where the World Trade Center towers fell in New York City, the Pentagon has long since been rebuilt, and a meadow of wildflowers grows in the spot where Flight 93 crashed into a Pennsylvania field.
However, for the thousands of survivors who lost loved ones that day, the sense of loss endures.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 13 years,” Larry Melzer told Reuters while arriving for the start of the morning’s commemoration ceremony at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum plaza in Manhattan, Thursday morning.
Mr. Melzer’s brother was killed while working as a trader in one of the towers when Al Qaeda-affiliated hijackers flew two planes into the World Trade Center.
“As far as the pain, I never forget and it never diminishes,” he said.
During the private ceremony, family members read off the names of the nearly 3,000 victims who died that day, pausing four times to mark the moments when each hijacked airliner crashed into the World Trade Center and when the towers fell.
Adriana Fiori wept as she read her father Paul’s name.
“You put me to bed 13 years ago not knowing it would be your last time," she said. “I miss you so much, Daddy.”
In a simultaneous ceremony in Washington, D.C., President Obama spoke directly to the family members of the 125 people killed when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon that same morning.
“As Americans, we draw strength from you,” Mr. Obama said during his remarks. “You have kept alive a love that no act of terror can ever extinguish.”
A third service – the only public ceremony of the morning – was held in Shanksville in honor of the 33 passengers and seven crew members of United Airlines Flight 93, who revolted against four more hijackers. The 9/11 Commission determined that the hijackers had likely planed to fly the plane into either the White House or the Capitol but were thwarted by the revolt.
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert presented the Flight 93 National Memorial with the flag – still smudged with smoke from the fire caused by the crash at the Pentagon – that had flown over the US Capitol building that fateful day.
“Today that flag would not have been in existence … if not for the great heroes who we’ll hold in our hearts for ever and ever,” he said.
The victims were posthumously awarded a Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Across the nation, millions of Americans are marking the anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on US soil by reaching out to each other as part of what has now become the National Day of Service and Remembrance.
A public Tribute in Light will be held Thursday evening at the 9/11 Memorial Plaza in New York City.
This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.