The United States marks 22 years since 9/11, from ground zero to Alaska


President Joe Biden urged Americans on Monday not to succumb to the "poisonous politics of difference and division" as he sought to revive the spirit of national unity after the deadly Sept. 11, 2001, attacks 22 years ago.

"It shouldn't take a national tragedy to remind us of the power of national unity, but that's how we truly honor those we lost on 9/11," Biden told about 1,000 U.S. military personnel at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska.

Biden, his wife Jill, Vice President Kamala Harris, her husband Doug Emhoff, and U.S. military commanders participated in separate events to remember those who died in the Sept. 11 attacks and the war in Afghanistan that resulted.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Islamist hijackers seized control of three jetliners and crashed them into the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing nearly 3,000 people. A fourth plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after passengers overcame the hijackers.

Biden's event took place in Alaska because he was on his way back from a five-day trip to India and Vietnam.

His decision to hold the event in Alaska, instead of Washington or New York, was a departure from what has been presidential custom.

With 14 months to go until the 2024 presidential election, his remarks included a political message.

Biden decried what he called a "rising tide of hatred, extremism, and political violence" in the United States. There is growing evidence that the country is grappling with the biggest and most sustained increase in political violence since the 1970s.

"We must not succumb to the poisonous politics of difference and division. We must never allow ourselves to be pulled apart by petty manufactured grievances," said Biden, recalling his friendship with John McCain, the late Vietnam war hero and Republican senator.

McCain, he said, put duty to country "above party, above politics, above his own person. This day reminds us, we must not lose that sense of national unity."

Harris and other officials joined families of those who died at the 9/11 Memorial in New York, which occupies the footprints of the downed buildings.

"It's 22 years and this is the way I still feel like it was yesterday," said Sybil Ramsaran, whose daughter Sarah died in the attacks.

Also at the New York event was Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a candidate for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

Donald Trump, the leading Republican candidate for the 2024 race, issued a video vowing "we will never, ever forget" the 9/11 victims.

Across the Potomac River from Washington, top U.S. military leaders held their annual event at the Pentagon, and Jill Biden took part in a wreath-laying ceremony.

In Shanksville, Pennsylvania, Emhoff laid a wreath at the memorial for United Flight 93.

The attacks prompted then-President George W. Bush to launch a "global war on terror" that included a military assault on Afghanistan to find al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden eluded capture until he was killed in a U.S. raid on his Pakistan compound in 2011 ordered by then-President Barack Obama.

The 9/11 attacks were the worst assault on U.S. soil since the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, when 2,400 people were killed.

 Americans are looking back on the horror and legacy of 9/11, gathering Monday at memorials, firehouses, city halls, and elsewhere to observe the 22nd anniversary of the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil.

Commemorations stretch from the attack sites — at New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania — to Alaska and beyond. President Joe Biden is due at a ceremony on a military base in Anchorage.

His visit, en route to Washington, D.C., from a trip to India and Vietnam, is a reminder that the impact of 9/11 was felt in every corner of the nation, however remote. The hijacked plane attacks claimed nearly 3,000 lives and reshaped American foreign policy and domestic fears.

On that day, “we were one country, one nation, one people, just like it should be. That was the feeling — that everyone came together and did what we could, where we were at, to try to help,” said Eddie Ferguson, the fire-rescue chief in Virginia’s Goochland County.

It’s more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the Pentagon and more than three times as far from New York. But a sense of connection is enshrined in a local memorial incorporating steel from the World Trade Center’s destroyed twin towers.

The predominantly rural county of 25,000 people holds not just one but two anniversary commemorations: a morning service focused on first responders and an evening ceremony honoring all the victims.

Other communities across the country pay tribute with moments of silence, tolling bells, candlelight vigils, and other activities. In Columbus, Indiana, 911 dispatchers broadcast a remembrance message to police, fire, and EMS radios throughout the 50,000-person city, which also holds a public memorial ceremony.

Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts raise and lower the flag at a commemoration in Fenton, Missouri, where a “Heroes Memorial” includes a piece of World Trade Center steel and a plaque honoring 9/11 victim Jessica Leigh Sachs. Some of her relatives live in the St. Louis suburb of 4,000 residents.

“We’re just a little bitty community,” said Mayor Joe Maurath, but “it’s important for us to continue to remember these events. Not just 9/11, but all of the events that make us free.”

New Jersey’s Monmouth County, which was home to some 9/11 victims, made Sept. 11 a holiday this year for county employees so they could attend commemorations.

As another way of marking the anniversary, many Americans do volunteer work on what Congress has designated as both Patriot Day and a National Day of Service and Remembrance.

At ground zero, Vice President Kamala Harris is due to join the ceremony on the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum plaza. The event will not feature remarks from political figures, instead giving the podium to victims’ relatives for an hourslong reading of the names of the dead.

James Giaccone signed up to read again this year in memory of his brother, Joseph Giaccone, 43. The family attends the ceremony every year to hear Joseph’s name.

“If their name is spoken out loud, they don’t disappear,” James Giaccone said in a recent interview.

The commemoration is crucial to him.

“I hope I never see the day when they minimize this,” he said. “It’s a day that changed history.”

Biden, a Democrat, will be the first president to commemorate Sept. 11 in Alaska, or anywhere in the western U.S. He and his predecessors have gone to one or another of the attack sites in most years, though Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama each marked the anniversary on the White House lawn at times. Obama followed one of those observances by recognizing the military with a visit to Fort Meade in Maryland.

First lady Jill Biden is due to lay a wreath at the 9/11 memorial at the Pentagon.

In Pennsylvania, where one of the hijacked jets crashed after passengers tried to storm the cockpit, a remembrance and wreath-laying are scheduled at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Stoystown operated by the National Park Service. Harris’ husband, Doug Emhoff, is expected to attend the ceremony.

The memorial site will offer a new educational video, virtual tour, and other materials for teachers to use in classrooms. Educators with a total of more than 10,000 students have registered for access to the free “National Day of Learning” program, which will be available through the fall, organizers say.

“We need to get the word out to the next generation,” said memorial spokesperson Katherine Hostetler, a National Park Service ranger.

There's a  "tremendous need" to support veterans who answered the call to serve on 9/11, after the terrorist strike that killed nearly 3,000 people on U.S. soil in 2001, says award-winning actor and philanthropist Gary Sinise.

"I probably would've hung it up a while ago, and it wouldn't have manifested into a full-time mission," Sinise said of the eponymous foundation he established in 2011 to support veterans who served after the 9/11 attacks. "The public supports (it) with their generous donations and allows us to reach out and touch people all over the country who are in need. And there are a lot of people in need."

According to the USO, about a quarter million people served their country in the wake of 9/11 in both active duty and reserve forces. Over time, many have retired or are entering retirement with battlefield wounds after reaching 20 years of service. 

According to the VA's 2022 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, the suicide rate for veterans was 57% greater than non-veterans in 2020.

Sinise told CBS News that the way Afghanistan fell to the Taliban in 2021 was especially painful for service members who had been part of the  war.  "If you're somebody that lived through that, multiple deployments throughout that time, saw friends lose their lives, get hurt, go into the hospitals, have to suffer terrible injuries and live with those injuries. And then you wonder, like why we went through all that."

Sinise called it "a real moral injury," adding, "People are struggling and suffering. We want them to know that regardless of what happened, their service mattered."

Asked about his thoughts on the 22nd anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil, Sinise said it was a personal turning point when he transitioned from "self to service."

"What happened after Sept. 11 was something that changed my life completely. And it turned me from, you know, more of a focus on my acting career and the movie business and the theater stuff and television and all those things, to kind of doing something positive for others," Sinise said.

Though nearly 30 years since he played a Vietnam veteran, Lt. Dan, a double amputee, in the Oscar-winning film "Forrest Gump," Sinise said he could have never predicted he would still be living with the character so many years later. 

"After Sept. 11, it was a turning point. And I started visiting the hospitals and walking in, and they … wouldn't necessarily even know what my real name was," Sinise said of the wounded servicemembers, "but they would recognize me as the character in the movie."

Sinise said wounded service members want to know more about the character, his own life, and what it was like to play a double amputee. "If you look at the story of Lieutenant Dan, it is very positive in the end," Sinise said. "He's a Vietnam veteran who survives and moves on and thrives. And that's the story we want for everybody who's wounded in battle, and to come home and be able to move on and go, go forward."

"I want the Gary Sinise Foundation to be as strong as possible so that our outreach is wide. And we can help as many people as possible in the coming years. And my goal would be to just stand up an organization that can live beyond me and keep going to help people," Sinise said. "That's my goal."

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