Plans to mark 20th anniversary of 9/11 attacks begin to take shape in NYC

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Marie Ortiz remembers son-in law Amelio Ortiz at 9/11 memorial ceremony on the 19th anniversary. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Six months from now, New York and the nation will pause to remember the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks — a day of infamy that remains all too vivid and recent in the minds of those who witnessed it.

On Thursday, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum outlined some of the ways it will honor the nearly 3,000 Americans killed in the coordinated attacks upon the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, the Pentagon in Washington, DC and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania — where hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 crashed before it could reach its target in the nation’s capitol.

“We suffered a great tragedy that day and for the weeks and months that followed. We mourned the victims of the attacks and promised to never forget,” said former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who serves as 9/11 Memorial and Museum board chairman. “The 9/11 Memorial and Museum is helping to keep that promise by preserving their memories and the difficult but important history of the terror attacks. While we are recovering from a health crisis that has touched millions of lives, the Memorial and Museum is also a symbol of our resilience and our capacity to endure our darkest moments and overcome them.”

The commemorations will include the reading of the victims’ names at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in Lower Manhattan — a custom that began with the first anniversary of the attacks, in 2002, but was cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic in a controversial decision.

Last September, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum opted not to hold the name-reading during the annual anniversary commemoration due to concerns about social distancing amid the pandemic. The decision led the Stephen A. Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation to hold its own reading of names on Sept. 11, 2020 outside nearby Zuccotti Park in a ceremony that ran almost simultaneously to the 9/11 Memorial’s observance.

The name-reading custom, however, will resume this year at the 9/11 Memorial on the morning of attacks’ 20th anniversary — carried on family members of the 2,983 people killed on 9/11 and in the World Trade Center bombing of Feb. 26, 1993.

Another 9/11 anniversary custom will return in September: the Tribute in Light. First illuminated on the six-month anniversary of the attacks, March 11, 2002, the twin beams of light — representing the fallen Twin Towers of the World Trade Center — have become a fixture on the New York City skyline every Sept. 11 thereafter. 

Last September, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum initially canceled the Tribute in Light out of concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic — namely for the large crew employed to set the display up. The museum, however, reversed its decision after receiving additional support to ensure the tribute could be constructed and illuminated safely.

The museum will also continue its “Anniversary in the Schools” program, offering pre-recorded webinars to schools that include first-hand stories from 9/11 family members, survivors, rescue and recovery workers. Since 2016, the museum noted, the program “has reached more than a million participants in all 50 states and 40 countries.”

“During this 20th anniversary year, it is our privilege to share these lesson with a new generation, teach them about the ongoing repercussions of the 9/11 attacks and inspire them with the idea that, even in the darkest of times, we can come together, support one another and find the strength to renew and rebuild,” said 9/11 Memorial and Museum President and CEO Alice M. Greenwald.

Along with marking the milestone anniversary this year, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum says it is also working on four key goals to ensure that no one forgets the attacks over the next 20 years. That includes pledges to continue holding remembrance ceremonies, expanding public education programs, highlighting health, safety and social issues directly related to the attacks, and increasing public awareness about post-9/11 threats.

For more information about 9/11-related events, visit 911memorial.org.

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