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President Joe Biden faced criticism for commemorating the 22nd anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in Alaska instead of attending memorial events at ground zero in New York City or the Pentagon.
Biden spoke to service members, first responders and families at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage on Monday afternoon. He had just returned from an overseas trip to the G20 summit in India and Vietnam.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, campaigning in Iowa, said Biden should have been present at the 9/11 memorial sites to “pay a debt of gratitude” and honor the lives lost and heroes forged that day.
Biden Emphasizes Endurance Against Evil While Marking Somber Anniversary
In his speech, Biden said the 9/11 attacks “tested our strength, our resolve and our courage” but that “we endured.” He called it a “solemn day to renew our sacred vow: never forget.”
The president emphasized that the U.S. can never forget the 2,977 lives lost when al-Qaida terrorists hijacked commercial planes and crashed them into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field on September 11, 2001. It was the deadliest terror attack ever on American soil.
“Each of those precious lives stolen too soon when evil attacked ground zero in New York,” Biden said, adding that he knew how difficult the anniversary is for the families of victims.
Vice President Harris Attends Ground Zero Ceremony While Biden Stops in Alaska
While Biden marked the occasion in Alaska, Vice President Kamala Harris represented the administration at the ceremony in lower Manhattan. She was joined by New York leaders like Governor Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams.
Biden said his Alaska visit and recent trip to Asia were “essential” to ensure the U.S. has strong allies around the world. He called such relationship building critical “to build a world that is safer for all of our children.”
The president noted that national security alliances are “not a given” and must be continuously strengthened, especially on a day like 9/11.
Identifying Victims Continues 22 Years After Attacks
The solemn anniversary was also marked by the ongoing process of identifying victims of the attacks over two decades later.
Just last week, two more victims were confirmed as the 1,648th and 1,649th of the 2,753 killed at the Twin Towers. The New York Fire Department also added 43 names to a memorial wall for first responders who later died from illnesses during 9/11 rescue and recovery operations.
Nearly 3,000 people were killed across the four plane hijackings and crashes orchestrated by the al-Qaida terror group. This includes the 184 people who died at the Pentagon and 40 passengers on Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Biden Rejects Plea Deal for Alleged 9/11 Attack Planners
As the nation marked the solemn anniversary, Biden last week rejected proposed conditions for a plea deal for five Guantanamo Bay detainees facing trial for allegedly aiding the 9/11 attacks.
Prosecutors had floated terms limiting the men’s contact with extremists, preventing communications and requiring cooperation with U.S. authorities. However, the White House said such precautionary measures were insufficient.
The five defendants will now head to trial at the U.S. military base in Cuba beginning next year.
Biden Recognizes First Responders, Troops, While Empathizing With Victims
In his speech, Biden paid tribute to the first responders who rushed to Ground Zero, the civilians and service members who aided at the Pentagon, and the “patriot passengers” of Flight 93 “whose actions saved countless lives.”
He also recognized U.S. troops who later served in Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11. Biden pulled U.S. forces from Afghanistan last year, ending America’s longest war.
The president empathized with the deep grief still felt by many who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001, saying he knew how painful it was to relive the trauma each anniversary.
“Anyone here or across the country mourning a lost loved one, all of those who still bear the wounds from that searing September morning, I know how hard it is,” Biden said.
Jill Biden, Doug Emhoff Visit Memorials While President Stops in Alaska
As the president spoke in Alaska, First Lady Jill Biden laid a wreath at the Pentagon memorial. Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff traveled to the Flight 93 crash site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Vice President Harris told victims’ families at the Ground Zero ceremony in New York that she hoped “you feel the presence of your loved ones here with you.”
She said America’s “commitment to justice, service and goodness” was renewed by the incredible sacrifice and heroism witnessed on one of the nation’s darkest days.
U.S. Remembers Strength and Unity Displayed After 9/11
On the anniversary, the country remembers not only the tragedy but the incredible unity, compassion and courage demonstrated in the aftermath of the attacks.
In the years since 9/11, the country has worked to honor those killed, support first responders and veterans, and prevent future attacks. But the anniversary remains a solemn and difficult day for the families of victims.
As Biden said, the U.S. endures by remaining committed to its ideals of freedom and justice. Acts of hatred cannot break the American spirit or diminish the nation’s resolve.
For more on how America is commemorating and reflecting on 9/11 after 22 years, read our latest coverage. And don’t forget to check out our special project remembering the lives lost in the attacks and their enduring legacies.