9/11 memorial ceremony details explained

Eric Adelson
The Upshot
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What was the significance of the tattered flag unfurled during the national anthem?

This is the same flag that flew over the World Trade Center site for nearly two months after the 9/11 attacks. It originally flew atop a building near the twin towers and it was recovered after 9/11. It is 20 feet by 30 feet and it was stitched back together by heroes from all 50 states. Tattered or ripped American flags are not supposed to be flown, but this flag became a symbol of American community and resilience.

What Bible verse was President Obama reading? And what passage was President Bush reading?

He was reading from Psalm 46. Politicians are asked to do readings every year on the 9/11 anniversary, instead of make speeches. That way the reading of the victims’ names is not overshadowed. Here’s the text from Obama’s reading:

1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. (Selah) 4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. 5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. 6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. 7 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. (Selah) 8 Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. 10 "Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth." 11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. (Selah)

Former President Bush read the letter from President Lincoln to Lydia Bixby, who lost five sons in the Civil War:

Executive Mansion,
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.

Dear Madam,--

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,


What was the classical music being played?

Yo-Yo Ma performed "Sarabande" from Bach's First Suite for Cello Solo. He also performed on the one-year anniversary of 9/11 in 2002. There are not very many notes in this song, but it is beautiful and haunting in its simplicity.

How are the names organized on the WTC memorial?

At first the plan was to arrange the names without any order because of the random nature of the way the victims died, but that plan was altered after anger from family members and firefighters. Instead, first responders’ names are engraved in a ribbon on a parapet overlooking the south reflecting pool. They are grouped by command, precinct or company so that visitors can recognize friends and coworkers. But there is no grouping by rank for either firefighters or police officers. The names of those who died in the South Tower are listed on the south reflecting pool, along with those in United Airlines Flight 175, which hit the South Tower. Those who died in American Airlines 11, which hit the North Tower, are listed on the north reflecting pool. The names of those on the flights that crashed into the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania are listed on the south memorial. So are the six people who died in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, as well as those who died on 9/11 but whose location that day is not known. There are 1,518 names around the north pool and 1,461 names around the south pool. Spouses and family members are grouped together, as are co-workers from companies in the towers, but no ages or floors are listed. 

Where’s Bill Clinton?

He spoke Saturday in Shanksville, Pa., vowing to raise the $10 million dollars needed to complete the memorial there for the victims of Flight 93. And in a moving moment, he promised to work with Speaker of the House John Boehner to collect the money. “Since I am no longer in office, I can do unpopular things,” Clinton declared at the end of his remarks at Saturday’s dedication ceremony. “I was aghast to find out we still need to raise $10 million to finish this place. And Speaker Boehner and I have already volunteered to do a bipartisan event in Washington and let’s get this show on the road. Let’s roll.” That phrase, “Let’s roll,” was heard by the passenger Todd Beamer on Flight 93 before he and others rushed the cockpit. It became a rallying cry for the entire nation. More than $52 million has already been raised for the memorial.

Clinton issued a statement Sunday on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. He said America is "remembering and honoring the lives of those who were killed and their loved ones." Clinton also cited "the courage of those who tried to save them — and of those who survived and had to begin again."

How many people died in the 9/11 attacks?

During the course of the day, it was feared that 30,000 or more died in the attacks. When asked for a death count that day, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said the number of casualties would be “more than any of us can bear.” He was right, but thanks to the incredible efforts of first-responders, many in the World Trade Center got to safety before the twin towers collapsed. The first estimated death toll was nearly 7,000, due to the large number of missing persons, but the death count has been revised over the years to 2,977 victims. If you include the 19 hijackers, the death toll is 2,996. There were 246 people on the four planes, 2,606 in New York City and 125 at the Pentagon. Nearly 2,000 families received no remains of their deceased loved ones.

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