WHITE HOUSE - President Donald Trump said terrorists have “nowhere to hide” Monday as he led the nation in observing the 16th anniversary of the worst act of terrorism ever on U.S. soil.
“We are making plain to these savage killers that there is no dark corner beyond our reach, no sanctuary beyond our grasp and nowhere to hide anywhere on this very large Earth,” Trump told a gathering at the Pentagon, where one of four hijacked jets hit on September 11, 2001.
“The horror and anguish of that dark day were seared into our memory forever,” the president said.
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Defense Secretary Jim Mattis introduced Trump, noting the 9/11 attacks had only strengthened America’s resolve.
“Maniacs disguised in false religious garb thought by hurting us they could scare us that day. But we Americans are not made of cotton candy, we are not seaweed drifting in the current. We are not intimidated by our enemies, and Mr. President, your military does not scare.”
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Memorials to the 2,977 victims of the 9/11 attacks were held at several locations, including the World Trade Center in New York, where the annual bell ringing and reading of victims’ names was re-enacted.
Vice-president Mike Pence traveled to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where a fourth jet heading for Washington crashed into a field after passengers overpowered the hijackers. Pence recounted how he watched the drama unfold from his vantage point in the U.S. Capitol Police chief’s office.
“The chief set the phone back down and informed the leaders gathered there that there was a plane inbound to the Capitol, and he said it was 12 minutes out,” Pence said.
“So we waited. It was the longest 12 minutes of my life. But it turned to 13 minutes, then 14, and then we were informed that the plane had gone down in a field in Pennsylvania.”
The vice-president paid tribute to the passengers who overcame the hijackers and prevented what could have been another horrific chapter in the 9/11 story.
“In the days ahead like every American, we would learn the story of the 40 heroes of Flight 93 - men and women who looked evil squarely in the eye and without regard to their personal safety, rushed forward to save lives” Pence said.
Earlier, President Trump led a moment of silence on the White House lawn at 8:46 a.m., the exact moment the first jet smashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.
In Photos: 9/11 anniversaryView full gallery
Sixteen years later, that moment reawakens horrific memories in millions of Americans, none more so than Tom Weber, who was at the window of his 39th floor lower Manhattan apartment facing the twin towers of the World Trade Center when he heard the unusually loud sound of an aircraft engine.
“In fact it was a plane going full throttle and I looked to my right,” Weber told VOA. “I saw for about seven blocks or so this plane making its way toward the World Trade Center, banking and heading left and going right through the building.”
“When the second plane started its way toward the buildings I thought, maybe this was some kind of military plane that was going to take photos of the damage, when the next thing I know it goes right into the south tower, and a humongous fireball goes toward us and shakes our building. And that’s when (my wife) Carolyn said, ‘We’re getting out of here, let’s go.”
Weber says he is surprised that, 16 years later, the feelings he experience that day have not diminished. “It is like yesterday,” he explained.
“There’s an overwhelming sense of sadness. And loss. Every year at this time, especially on beautiful days like this. It was a pristine, gorgeous, early fall day. It really harkens back to that awful day.”
Weber, a university professor and professional baseball coach, says he has conflicting feelings each time he looks out his window at the gleaming new skyscraper that replaced the Twin Towers.
“There was no way to put something there that would adequately pay homage to, and respectfully remember, and satisfy everyone. I don’t think that’s possible,” he said.
“On the other hand, I’m glad something is there. It’s a sign we took it on the chin and came back better and stronger. Still, I’ll never ever be able to look at that site again and not feel a little sad, irrespective of its success and its beauty and its signal to the rest of the world that we’re OK.”
Weber pauses for a few seconds, then adds wistfully, “The reality for me is that it will always be a graveyard.”