Stepping away from the campaign trail on the 19th anniversary of 9/11, President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden Friday paid tribute to the nearly 3,000 people killed in the deadliest terrorist attacks in U.S. history.
During separate trips to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, a battleground state in the race for president, the two men honored the 40 passengers and crew members who died after battling hijackers aboard United Airlines Flight 93.
Trump and first lady Melania Trump attended a morning memorial service at the Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville. In a speech, the president called the heroes of Flight 93 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.”
A couple hours later, Biden arrived at the same memorial for a less formal service. He placed a wreath of white flowers at the memorial marking the names of victims but did not give any public remarks.
The Trumps took part in a separate wreath laying ceremony with Ed Root, the cousin of flight attendant Lorraine G. Bay.
The former vice president spoke privately to family members of Flight 93 victims Bay, co-pilot LeRoy Homer and passenger Louis Nacke. Earlier in the day, Biden vowed he wouldn’t “make any news today” and said his campaign took down all its advertising.
“It’s a solemn day, and that’s how we’re going to keep it,” Biden said.
Trump and Biden did not cross paths in Shanksville. The site marks where Flight 93 crashed, preventing al qaeda-linked terrorists from reaching their planned target, the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
But earlier in the day Biden and Vice President Mike Pence touched elbows and greeted each other at New York City at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum’s 19th anniversary commemoration ceremony at the site of the World Trade Center attacks. It was unclear what was said. Trump did not attend the New York event.
As the names of the 2,977 killed on 9/11 were read aloud in New York, Biden comforted an elderly woman in a wheelchair who was holding a picture of her son. She told Biden her son was 43 years old when he died. Biden took the photo, looked it over and reflected on losing his own son, Beau Biden, who died of brain cancer in 2015.
“It never goes away,” Biden said. She repeated his words.
In addition to Flight 93, al qaeda-linked terrorists hijacked three other flights from United and American Airlines, hitting the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Northern Virginia near Washington D.C.
In Shanksville, Trump stood in front of flags representing the nationalities of those killed on Flight 93 as he delivered his remarks. He extended the “unwavering love, support and devotion of all Americans” to family members of 9/11 victims. He said the courage and resolve of those killed on Flight 93 was the “only thing that stood between the enemy and a deadly strike at the heart of American Democracy.”
“When terrorists raced to destroy the seat of our democracy, the 40 on Flight 93 did the most American of things,” Trump said. “They took a vote and then they acted. Together they charged the cockpit, they confronted the pure evil and in their last act on this Earth, they saved our Capitol.”
Trump went on to express the nation’s “undying loyalty” to the nearly 6 million Americans who enlisted in the Armed Forces since the 9/11 attacks.
“America will never relent in pursuing terrorists that threaten our people,” Trump said.
He singled out the killings last year of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Iranian major general Qasem Soleimani. Trump did not mention the killing of Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, who was killed during the Obama administration.
Names of those killed in Shanksville were read aloud at the service. Upon landing in Pennsylvania, the Trumps held a moment of silence in the conference room cabin of Air Force One at 8:46 a.m. to commemorate the first plane that hit the World Trade Center.
“God bless America,” White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said when the moment of silence concluded. The president repeated, “God bless America.”
The National Park Service, which co-hosts the annual memorial event in Pennsylvania, planned a smaller private service this year to minimize the spread of coronavirus. The 2,200-acre memorial is in a field in western Pennsylvania.
During the visit to the old World Trade Center site, Biden stood alongside New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and the state’s two U.S. senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, nearby.
“I remember all my friends that I lost,” Biden said when asked what the day means for him.
“It takes a lot of courage for someone that lost someone to come back today,” the former vice president continued. “I know from experience, losing my wife, my daughter, my son, you relive it, the moment as if it’s happening. It’s hard. It’s a wonderful memorial, but it’s hard. It just brings you back to the moment it happened, no matter how long, how much time passes. So I admire the families who come.”
In 2016, Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton each spent Sept. 11 in New York and each visited the ground zero memorial in lower Manhattan.
In a prepared statement issued after his visit to New York, Biden said 19 years ago “our nation was tested by an unspeakable act of cowardice and hate.” He said 9/11 “revealed the character of Americans” and also compared the tragedy to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 190,000.
“Like a generation once did in the wake of Pearl Harbor, this generation of Americans bore the burden that history placed on our shoulders that day,” Biden said. “And this year, we mark the anniversary of 9/11 in the midst of another crisis that compels us to summon the best of the American people in the face of unconscionable, inconceivable loss — a crisis that has already taken nearly 200,000 Americans, testing our resolve and character with each passing day.”
Biden this week said Trump is to blame for thousands of deaths given what the president new about the severity of the pandemic in February, yet played it down publicly, according to audio recordings taken by reporter Bob Woodward for a new book.
Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic nominee for vice president, delivered a tribute to the 9/11 victims as well during a memorial ceremony Friday in Fairfax, Virginia, that she attended with her husband, Doug Emhoff.
“Let us remember that honoring them is also about reminding us of who were are as Americans,” Harris said, “because in times of tragedy, in times of despair, in times of suffering and pain, we by our very nature as who we are, we stand together. We stand together, understanding we are all in this together.”
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.