NEW YORK — Ten years on, Americans come together Sunday where the World Trade Center soared, where the Pentagon stands as a fortress once breached, where United Airlines Flight 93 knifed into the earth.
They will gather to pray in cathedrals in our greatest cities and to lay roses before fire stations in our smallest towns, to remember in countless ways the anniversary of the most devastating terrorist attacks since the nation’s founding, and in the process mark the milestone as history itself.
As in earlier observances, bells will toll again to mourn the loss of those killed in the attacks. Americans will lay eyes on new memorials in lower Manhattan, rural Pennsylvania and elsewhere, concrete symbols of the resolve to remember and rebuild.
But much of the weight of this year’s ceremonies lies in what will largely go unspoken — the anniversary’s role in prompting Americans to consider how the attacks changed them and the larger world and the continuing struggle to understand 9/11’s place in the lore of the nation.
“A lot’s going on in the background,” said Ken Foote, author of “Shadowed Ground: America’s Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy,” examining the role that veneration of sites of death and disaster plays in modern life. “These anniversaries are particularly critical in figuring out what story to tell, in figuring out what this all means.
“It forces people to figure out what happened to us,” he said.
On Saturday in rural western Pennsylvania, more than 4,000 people began to tell the story again.
At the dedication of the Flight 93 National Memorial near the town of Shanksville, former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden joined the families of the 40 passengers and crew aboard Flight 93 who fought back against their hijackers.
They were “ordinary people given no time at all to decide and they did the right thing,” he said.
On Sunday, the nation’s focus turns to ceremonies at the Pentagon, just outside Washington, D.C., and in lower Manhattan for the dedication of the national Sept. 11 memorial. President Barack Obama planned to attend ceremonies at all three sites and was scheduled to speak at a Sunday evening service at the Kennedy Center.
The New York ceremony begins at 8:30 a.m., with a moment of silence 16 minutes later — coinciding with the exact time when the first tower of the trade center was struck by a hijacked jet. And then, one by one, the reading of the names of the 2,977 killed on Sept. 11 — in New York, at the Pentagon and in rural Pennsylvania.
They include the names of 37 of Lt. Patrick Lim’s fellow officers from the police department of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Lim, assigned to patrol the trade center with an explosives detection dog, rushed in to the north tower after it was hit to help evacuate workers. He and a few others survived despite still being inside a fifth-floor stairwell when the building fell.
In the years since, Lim said he has wrestled with survivor’s guilt, realizing the last of those he’d urged ahead of him were crushed when the tower collapsed.
The 10th anniversary has forced Lim to revisit an experience he’s worried too many people have pushed from their minds. But the approach of Sunday’s ceremonies has convinced him of the value of revisiting Sept.11, both for himself and others.
“What I want is for people to remember what happened,” Lim said.