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A day of infamy: These images recall the horror and heroism of 9/11, 20 years later

Black plumes of smoke pour out of the World Trade Center after hijacked aircraft were deliberately rammed into them during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
REUTERS/Brad Rickerby/File Photo

Emblazoned in blue tile on a wall within the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in Lower Manhattan are the words of the famous Roman poet Virgil: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”

As a city, we’ve arrived at the point where we are now 20 years removed from Sept. 11, 2001 — one of the darkest moments in our history, a date that forever altered our city both physically and spiritually.

So much has happened in the past two decades, including the reconstruction of the World Trade Center itself into a modern center of commerce and progress. Those who were children on 9/11 are now adults building their own lives, with some dedicating themselves to public service in honor of those they knew and loved who perished that fateful day.

But for those of us alive to bear witness to that terrible morning, the memories have not been blurred by the passage of such an extensive period of time.

We gather as a city once more this Saturday to pause and remember the 20th anniversary when terrorists struck a shocking blow at the heart of our city — crashing hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center and precipitating their collapse, killing close to 3,000 people in the process.

We gather once more to honor the sacrifices of the more than 350 firefighters, police officers, EMTs and other first responders who ran into the burning Twin Towers to save lives as thousands of people fled from the danger. We also gather once more to remember the brave men and women who worked at “Ground Zero” for months on end searching for survivors and remains of victims — and are now dying of illnesses related to their heroic work.

And we do this not only to ensure that we “never forget” 9/11 — but also to live out Virgil’s words that the passage of time won’t ever erase from our consciousness those whom we lost that fateful day.

The horrific morning

The Japanese bark Kaiwo Maru sails up the Hudson River past the World Trade Center in New York on July 4 as part of the OpSail 2000 parade of tall ships. (PM/HB/Reuters)

Before 9/11, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center had become the symbol of our nation’s economic power — standing all above Lower Manhattan as the hub of commerce and business that employed tens of thousands from across the tri-state area.

The World Trade Center south tower (L) burst into flames after being struck by hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 as the north tower burns following an earlier attack by hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 in New York, September 11, 2001. (REUTERS/Sean Adair)

In 102 minutes, on what had started out as a beautiful, late summer morning, terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center in one of the most horrifying episodes in history. The attackers crashed hijacked passenger jets into each tower, setting off massive office fires in each building. 

Smoke billows from the two World Trade Center towers after planes crashed into each tower, in New York on September 11, 2001. (REUTERS)

Witnesses on the ground watched in horror as trapped victims above the impact zones began leaping to their deaths. Thousands of first responders — police officers, firefighters, paramedics — converged on the World Trade Center to save as many lives as possible.

People look out of the burning North tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. REUTERS/Jeff Christensen/File Photo 
Workers at St. Vincent’s Hospital wait for injured people from the World Trade Center towers after planes crashed into the buildings, in New York on September 11, 2001. (REUTERS)

Hundreds of firefighters made a strenuous march up the towers’ stairwells, while thousands of victims descended the stairs, to reach the fire zone and put the infernos out.

No one could have imagined what would occur next.

The remaining tower of New York’s World Trade Center, Tower 2, dissolves in a cloud of dust and debris about a
half hour after the first twin tower collapsed September 11, 2001. (REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

The South Tower of the World Trade Center fell just before 10 a.m. that day, followed a half-hour later by the North Tower. In 10 seconds, each 110-story building collapsed into massive clouds of death and debris that settled upon Lower Manhattan. 

People walk away from the World Trade Center tower in New York City early September 11, 2001. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)
REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Firemen work around the World Trade Center after both towers collapsed in New York on September 11, 2001.  (REUTERS/Peter Morgan)

The horrors experienced in New York that morning were compounded by news out of Washington that the Pentagon had been struck by another hijacked airline at about 9:37 a.m. that morning. Moments after the South Tower fell, a fourth hijacked jet, Flight 93, crashed in rural Shanksville, Pennsylvania — thanks in large part to passengers who rebelled against their hijackers and thwarted another attack in our nation’s capitol.

A law enforcement officer reacts after the first tower of the World Trade Center fell in New York City early September 11, 2001. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)
Rescue workers carry fatally injured New York City Fire Department Chaplain, Father Mychal Judge, from one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City, early September 11, 2001. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

New York suffered the worst losses in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Over the following eight months, construction workers and first responders combed the ruins at what was then called “Ground Zero,” removing debris while also recovering victims who died.

Firefighters comb the remains of the World Trade Center after the collapse September 11, 2001. (REUTERS/Peter
Morgan)
REUTERS/Peter Morgan
New York City firefighters and other emergency personnel survey the World Trade Center collapse area near Vesey and Greenwich Streets after the World Trade Center collapse September 11, 2001. (REUTERS/Anthony Correia)

Nearly two decades removed from the attacks, the death toll connected to 9/11 continues to grow today — as many of those who labored at Ground Zero have suffered debilitating illnesses related to their work in the recovery mission. The Fire Department, for example, lost 343 members during the attacks — and another 250 members in 20 years due to 9/11-related illnesses, according to the Uniformed Firefighters Association.

A group of firefighters search the remains of the destroyed World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

Ground Zero was finally cleared of World Trade Center rubble in May 2002, and over the next decade, the site was rebuilt into a modern center of business.

The Twin Towers footprints were preserved as part of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum — where the heroes and victims of 9/11 are honored and the history of that fateful day is preserved so all may “never forget.”

Am American flag flies near the base of the destroyed World Trade Center in New York, September 11, 2001. Planes crashed into each of the two towers, causing them to collapse. (REUTERS/Peter Morgan)
A New York City firefighter returns from battling building blazes near Vesey and Greenwich Streets after the World Trade Center collapse September 11, 2001. (REUTERS/Anthony Correia)
New York City firefighters take a break on West Street near the wreckage of the World Trade Center in New York City September 12, 2001. (REUTERS/Mike Segar)
A man is overcome with emotion as he pauses at a memorial at a fire station housing Engine 54 – Ladder 4 – Battalion 9 in New York September 14, 2001. (REUTERS/Peter Jones)
People pause at a memorial at a fire station housing Engine 54 – Ladder 4 – Battalion 9 in New York September 14, 2001. (REUTERS/Peter Jones)
President George W. Bush is shown with retired firefighter Bob Beckwith (R) at the scene of the World Trade Center disaster on September 14, 2001. (REUTERS/Win McNamee)
New York City firefighters hose down the still smoldering wreckage of the World Trade Center towers as FBI agents stand on a truck inspection platform (foreground) in New York, September 28, 2001.  REUTERS/Mike Segar

Images provided by Reuters.

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