At churches, they prayed. At fire stations, they laid wreaths. At football stadiums, hands and caps over hearts, they lifted their voices in song and familiar chants of “USA!” — Americans’ patriotism renewed once more as they allowed themselves to go back in time, to the planes and the towers and the panic and the despair, to the memories that scar them still.
On Sunday, Americans remembered — in their own ways, all across the land — a day that is simply impossible to forget.
“Would it be nice not to see the planes fly into the buildings all the time? Yes. But we can honor all the people,” said 37-year-old Lea Pfeifer, who marked the anniversary by participating in a “Freedom Walk” at Virginia’s Arlington National Cemetery along with her husband and 2-year-old son. “I think we carry that horror with us every day.”
Far from the main ceremonies in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington — on small-town main streets and in courthouse squares, in big-city parks and on statehouse steps — thousands gathered to unveil monuments, pledge allegiance and celebrate resilience.
The anniversary was remembered with public gatherings and private ceremonies, with gestures large and small. Facebook profile pictures were changed to American flags. Online tributes allowed people to recall where they were that morning a decade ago when American life forever changed.
The memorials were as distinct as America itself: In Las Vegas, firefighters and police officers ascended the 108-story Stratosphere. In Nashville, at a honky-tonk that bills itself as “Hillbilly Heaven,” a country band played gospel as a preacher talked about 9-11 between songs.
On this day, there were motorcycle rides in Alaska and California, a Beach Boys concert in Colorado and many more events aptly named to capture the pervading themes surrounding the anniversary.
In a small park next to the county courthouse in Bennington, Vt., senior citizens watched from lawn chairs as Boy Scouts presented wreaths and World War II veterans rang the bell of an aircraft carrier four times — one for each 9-11 attack. A monument containing steel from the World Trade Center was exhibited as one victim’s father spoke to the hundreds gathered.
“It is easy to look at that piece of steel and despair,” said Don Goodrich, 68, whose son Peter died when United Airlines Flight 175 hit the south tower of the World Trade Center. “But despair is what Osama bin Laden and those who follow him want for us. This we must not do.”
In Richmond, Va., Mary Purcell attended a 9-11 remembrance ceremony to represent her mother, who was too overcome with emotion. Mary Bannister was headed to the World Trade Center for a meeting when the first plane struck, her daughter said.
“She couldn’t cry that date because she was running for her life,” Purcell said.