Twenty years have passed since the world watched in horror as the North and South towers of the World Trade Center crumbled on Sept. 11, 2001. The post-9/11 aftermath resulted in a number of responses on the topics of terrorism and national security. The resounding shared response, though, was the vow to never forget the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives on that day.
In the last two decades since the attacks, memorials to the victims have been established across the country, including at the three main sites where the events of that fateful day occurred. 9/11 Memorial & Museum, National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial and Flight 93 National Memorial together tell the story of the day that altered the course of American history and honor the lives lost.
9/11 Memorial & Museum
New York City
Housing 110,000 square feet of exhibition space, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum features an outdoor memorial plaza — located at the former World Trade Center site — and a museum housing archaeological remnants of the World Trade Center.
Currently, the memorial is offering the Memorial + Museum Tour. Expert guides illustrate what happened on 9/11 and tell the stories of those affected — among other topics. Groups will also see the new structures of the World Trade Center and the Memorial Pools honoring all 9/11 victims.
“Because the museum can be a difficult place to visit, many people find taking a tour with an expert guide makes the experience easier and more meaningful,” said Hope Morrill, director of interpretive programs at the memorial and museum. “Our guides are incredibly knowledgeable and empathetic, and they take their responsibility to share the 9/11 story seriously.”
In addition to the twin reflecting pools, the memorial includes the Memorial Glade — dedicated to the rescue and relief workers and those who were affected by the aftermath of 9/11 — and the Survivor Tree — a Callery pear tree that survived the terror attacks at the World Trade Center.
The museum’s “Historical Exhibition: September 11, 2001” features video recordings, artifacts, first-person testimony and archival audio to relay the story in three parts: the events leading to the attacks, the day of and the aftermath. The museum displays temporary exhibits as well.
Every year on Sept. 11, the memorial holds a commemoration featuring Tribute in Light, a public art installation including two beams of light representing the Twin Towers stretching into the sky. Victims’ loved ones are also invited to read their names aloud.
Morrill reminds groups that a visit to the museum is more pertinent than one might think.
“Especially as Americans begin a return to normalcy, people will find that the lessons learned after 9/11 can be useful in our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Morrill said. “Not only will a visit to the memorial and museum feel relevant in this moment, but it is also impossible to understand the city’s story without including the 9/11 story.”
9/11 Memorial & Museum
National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial
The National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial’s beginning dates back to the days following 9/11; everyday, people would leave makeshift memorials around the fencing near the crash site at the Pentagon.
“The Pentagon set up what was a family assistance center and families would go there and those who had relatives on the plane, so it ended up being a place where people would meet and grieve together,” said Jim Laychak, executive director of the Pentagon Memorial Fund, Inc.
Laychak’s involvement with the memorial also began 20 years ago, when he lost his brother Dave on 9/11 at the Pentagon.
Currently closed to the public at the time of publication, the memorial greets visitors with several stainless-steel cantilever benches. Each victim — including those on Flight 77 and inside the Pentagon — has a bench, which includes their name. The benches are arranged according to the birth year of each victim. These birth years — called age lines — also reveal the flight path of the plane.
Every design element is reflective of that day; when a visitor reads the name of a victim at the end of a bench, they will either see the Pentagon in the background, or the sky. This notes where this victim was on 9/11 — either on Flight 77 or in the Pentagon.
“If someone died on Flight 77, you would read their name and your back would be facing the Pentagon, but you would see the sky in the distance,” Laychak said.
The opposite is true for those who died inside the Pentagon; when reading the name of those individuals, visitors’ backs are to the sky and they face the Pentagon.
“It’s an individual memorial, it’s a collective memorial, and it tells the story of what happened here,” Laychak said.
A project in the making since 2011, The Pentagon Memorial Fund, Inc. looks to open the Visitor Education Center (VEC) in three to four years. The VEC will offer several exhibits providing an overview of 9/11, conference space, a café, retail shop and a rooftop terrace.
“You’ll see exhibits on the local response, what we did nationally to respond, the start of TSA — different things like that,” Laychak said.
The exhibition space will be divided into 10 areas and will close with the “Always Remember, Never Forget” exhibit, calling visitors to actively remember 9/11 by getting involved with organizations. The National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial recently debuted a new web domain, pentagonmemorial.org, which includes more up-to-date news on the memorial, VEC, upcoming events, ways to get involved and much more. Contact Jim Laychak for more information.
National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial
703-627-8071 (Jim Laychack)
Flight 93 National Memorial
It was in 2002 that Flight 93 National Memorial was established — a place of remembrance that began with makeshift tributes left by loved ones of Flight 93 victims on Sept. 11, 2001.
Today, the memorial features impressive architecture and exhibition space — including the Tower of Voices, Visitor Center and Memorial Plaza. Together they encompass the story of that day 20 years ago while honoring the 40 brave individuals on Flight 93.
While the exact target of Flight 93 is unknown, based on the plane’s trajectory once taken over by the hijackers, it is believed it was headed for the United States Capitol building. Because of the heroic decision of those 40 individuals to step in, the plane never reached its target.
Steve Clark is the superintendent of Flight 93 National Memorial, as well as four other parks managed by the National Park Service. Clark expressed the ways Flight 93 National Memorial is different than others.
“I work on a daily basis with the families,” Clark said. “This is raw — this is a story we’re all living, so that’s why this place is so unique.”
Clark says he likes to refer to the Tower of Voices as the park’s welcoming beacon, as it is situated at the park’s entrance. The 93-foot-tall structure is a musical instrument, featuring 40 wind chimes.
The Visitor Center recounts the story of the passengers and crew members, the events of that day and the response to the hijacked plane through artifacts, multimedia components and interactive exhibits.
“At the very end of the exhibit, 2,977 names are etched into glass honoring all of those on the planes, all of those inside the World Trade Center and all of those inside the Pentagon,” Clark said.
A visit to the park culminates at the Memorial Plaza, which includes the Wall of Names — 40 white polished marble stones inscribed with the names of the crew and passengers. The site of the plaza is at the northern boundary of the crash site and the final resting place of the victims.
“There’s no doubt what those 40 people did was remarkable, and no question, saved countless lives,” Clark said.
Flight 93 National Memorial additionally includes a few trails that loop throughout the park, as well as a pollinator garden, home to a colony of honeybees.
Clark suggests groups commit two to three hours to see the entire park. “It truly does mark a time in history where just regular people really stepped up to do something extraordinary,” Clark said.
Flight 93 National Memorial