US remembers 9/11 even as pandemic changes tributes traditions

A woman wearing a flag mask joins others in prayer at the Tunnel to Towers ceremony, Sept. 11, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Americans commemorated 9/11 Friday as a new national crisis — the coronavirus pandemic — reconfigured and divided anniversary ceremonies and a presidential campaign carved a path through the observances.

In New York, victims’ relatives gathered Friday morning for split-screen remembrances, one at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza at the World Trade Center and another on a nearby corner, set up by a separate 9/11-related 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 the change for the 19th anniversary of the attacks was a coronavirus-safety precaution.

A large American flag is unfurled at the Pentagon ahead of ceremonies at the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial to honor the 184 people killed in the 2001 terrorist attack on the Pentagon, in Washington, Friday Sept. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Kathy Swift arrived early at the alternative ceremony, wearing a T-shirt honoring her slain brother, Thomas Swift, who worked in finance.

“We still have to remember,” said 61-year-old Swift. “The whole country’s going downhill. It’s one thing after another, and now with the COVID. I’m glad they’re still having this, though.”

President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden both planned to go — at different times — to the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Trump is speaking at the morning ceremony, the White House said. Biden planned to pay respects there in the afternoon after attending the observance at the 9/11 memorial in New York, where he and Vice President Mike Pence greeted each other at ground zero before the ceremony began with the usual tolling of a bell.

Pence was due later at the Tunnel to Towers Foundation ceremony, where he and his wife, Karen, were to read Bible passages.

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, 9/11 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 Sept. 11, 2001, shaping American policy, perceptions of safety and daily life in places from airports to office buildings.

Over the years, the anniversary also has become a day for volunteering. Because of the pandemic, the 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance organization is encouraging people this year to make donations or take other actions that can be accomplished at home.