WASHINGTON – Twenty-one years after the September 11 attacks, President Biden vowed never to forget “the precious lives that were stolen from us” as he honored the victims of the worst terrorist attack in American history with a somber wreath-laying ceremony in the pouring rain at Pentagon.

“I know for all those who have lost someone, 21 years is both a lifetime and no time at all,” Mr. Biden said in a speech after the ceremony on Sunday. “It’s good to remember. These memories help us heal. But they can also open up the pain and take us back to the moment when the grief was so raw.”

Members of the Biden administration fanned out over memorials at the sites of the three attacks — Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the Pentagon and lower Manhattan — to pay tribute to rescue workers and families of the nearly 3,000 victims who continue to mourn lost memories. experiences and ties. Mr. Biden also celebrated the anniversary by encouraging Americans to defend the nation’s democratic system, returning to a message that the country’s institutions are under threat from forces of domestic extremism.

“It’s not enough to stand up for democracy once a year or once in a while,” Biden said. “It’s something we have to do every day. So this is not only a day to remember, but also a day of renewal and determination for every single American.”

To begin his remarks, Mr. Biden recalled part of a message sent by Queen Elizabeth II, who died last week, in the wake of the attacks: “She strongly reminded us: ‘Sorrow is the price we pay for love.'”

The President’s speech came just over a year after Mr. Biden ended the two-decade war in Afghanistan that the United States began in response to the September 11 attacks. While Mr. Biden has defended the decision to withdraw American troops from the country, the chaotic and random nature of the withdrawal is also one of the darkest moments of Mr. Biden’s presidency.

When the Afghan government collapsed in August 2021, a bomb attack outside Kabul airport killed up to 170 Afghans and 13 American soldiers. The United States has taken in tens of thousands of Afghans supporting US troops in the country, although many others hoping to immigrate stayed abroad even after Mr Biden promised they would have a home in the country.

Mr Biden said Sunday his government remains committed to holding those responsible for the attacks accountable, citing the killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawari in a CIA drone strike last month. “Our commitment to preventing another attack in the United States does not end,” Biden said.

The First Lady, Jill Biden, commemorated the day with a visit to Shanksville and recalled the grief as she realized her sister Bonny Jacobs, a flight attendant, may have lost colleagues in the attack.

“When I got to her house, I realized I was right. Not only had she lost colleagues; she had lost friends,” said Dr. biden “As we learned more about that dark day, she also felt proud of what happened here – proud that it was other flight attendants and passengers on United Flight 93 who fought back, who helped damage the plane.” to prevent claiming countless lives the capital of our nation.”

The scene in front of the memorial in New York followed a familiar pattern. Vice President Kamala Harris and Mayor Eric Adams stood by as family members carried photos of their loved ones, while others carried American flags or roses. There were flashes of recognition and hugs between people who saw each other once a year. As the honor guard entered and the national anthem was sung, attendees who had captured pictures of their loved ones held them up.

There were moments of silence at 8:46 a.m. when Flight 11 hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center and at 9:03 a.m. when Flight 175 hit the South Tower. Reading the names of the victims brought both tears and fond memories.

David Albert was 13 when his father, Jon Leslie Albert, vice president of information technology at Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc., died in the terrorist attack. He read the names of his father and other victims. The feeling of loss remains even after 21 years, said Mr. Albert.

“The reality is that I, along with countless other children who have lost their parents, have missed countless memories, moments and conversations,” he said. “While the grief eases somewhat over time, my father’s permanent absence is as felt today as it ever was.”

Anthoula Katsimatides, 50, an actress and trustee of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, lost her brother John Katsimatides, 31, a bond broker at Cantor Fitzgerald.

“As time goes by, it’s easier for people to forget about it or put it on hold,” she said. Ms Katsimatides said the goal of the annual commemoration is to “teach younger generations” to avoid a similar tragedy in the future.

“They need to know, they need to be educated,” Ms Katsimatides said. “And then it will be their job to take the torch and pass it on.”

Zolan Kanno-Youngs reported from Washington and Jeffery C. Mays from New York.