SHANKSVILLE, Pa. — One spent time quietly consoling families.
The other proclaimed America’s might.
President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, Joe Biden marked the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on Friday at memorial services where their differences in style couldn’t have been more sharply on display.
Trump and Biden were both traveling to rural Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the hijacked Flight 93 crashed in a field, killing everyone on board. But the two would not cross paths. While Trump spoke at the site’s morning memorial ceremony, Biden was to visit later in the day, after attending the 9/11 Memorial & Museum’s annual commemoration at Ground Zero in New York, along with Vice President Mike Pence.
In a rare moment of detente during what has become a nasty campaign, Biden approached Pence after arriving at the ceremony and tapped him on the shoulder to say hello. The current and former vice presidents then shared an elbow bump — the popular COVID-era handshake replacement — as did Biden and second lady Karen Pence.
While a similar meeting between Trump and Biden will not happen, the day will nonetheless bring the two candidates the closest they’ve been in months. And though the country will be focused on the commemorations, the political significance of their visits to Shanksville was hard to ignore: Pennsylvania is a crucial battleground state in the 2020 election. Trump won there by less than 1 percentage point four years ago, and Democrats hope they can return it to their column this year.
Still, Biden insisted that he would steer clear of politics on a national day of mourning taking place in the midst of another unfolding tragedy, the pandemic.
“I’m not gonna make any news today. I’m not gonna talk about anything other than 9/11,” Biden told reporters. “We took all our advertising down, It’s a solemn day, and that’s how we’re going to keep it, OK?” The Trump campaign did not offer a similar promise and was quick to point out Biden ads that were still running.
Trump delivered a patriotic message in Shanksville as he shared the story of Flight 93, which officials say had been headed for Washington, D.C., until passengers teamed up against the hijackers, memorably declaring “let’s roll” as they took them on mid-flight.
“The heroes of Flight 93 are an everlasting reminder that no matter the danger, no matter the threat, no matter the odds, America will always rise up, stand tall, and fight back,” Trump said as he voiced empathy for the victims’ families, telling them that “today every heartbeat in American is wedded to yours.”
Trump also noted how the country had come together after 9/11 — without mentioning the current divisions in the country over the virus and other issues.
“It was a unity based on love for our families, care for our neighbors, loyalty to our fellow citizens, pride in our great flag, gratitude for our police and first responders, faith in God and a refusal to bend our will to the depraved forces of violence, intimidation, oppression and evil,” Trump declared.
He and first lady Melania Trump also laid a wreath at the site and observed a moment of silence aboard Air Force One at 8:46 a.m., marking the time the first plane hit the World Trade Center 19 years ago.
It was a different display in Lower Manhattan at the Ground Zero ceremony, where public officials were not part of the program. Biden consoled family members in the audience. At one point during the ceremony, as he was listening to the reading of the names of the victims, he spotted a woman crying in the crowd. Amanda Barreto, 27, of Teaneck, New Jersey, lost her godmother and aunt in the 9/11 attacks.
She said Biden approached her and “wanted to let me know to keep the faith.” He told her “he knows what it means to lose someone. He wanted me to stay strong. And he’s so sorry for my loss.” She said she appreciated his comments and would be voting for him this fall.
Biden also spotted 90-year-old Maria Fisher, who lost her son in the attacks. He told her he had lost his son also, a reference to his son Beau’s death from cancer. “It never goes away, does it?” he lamented, and handed her a rose.
The National Park Service, which co-hosts the annual Flight 93 memorial event in Pennsylvania, had originally said it was planning an abbreviated ceremony this year to minimize the spread of the coronavirus, with no keynote speaker or musical guests.
But after Biden and then the White House announced their plans to visit, the agency’s website was updated to reflect a new schedule that included remarks from Trump and the secretary of the interior.
In 2016, the 9/11 memorial events became a flashpoint in the presidential campaign after then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton abruptly left the Ground Zero ceremony and was seen stumbling as she tried to get into a van. Trump, who spoke repeatedly of that during the campaign, also spent the day in New York and paid his own visit to the memorial in Lower Manhattan.
Friday was Trump’s second time observing the anniversary in Shanksville, where he made remarks in 2018. Biden spoke at the memorial’s dedication in 2011, when he was vice president.
The 2,200-acre Flight 93 National Memorial marks the spot in rural Pennsylvania where the hijacked flight crashed, killing all 40 people on board. Three other planes hijacked that day were crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon. Nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks.