Remembering The Attacks Of Sept. 11

Between the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan, along the concrete walls of the Pentagon and amid the trees in rural Shankesville, Pa., ceremonies are being held Sunday to mark the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. A full decade after the events that are now often boiled down to just two numbers — 9, 11 — it can be difficult to remember the before. Audie Cornish then talks to NPR's Robert Siegel and Tom Gjelten about the ceremonies marking the day.

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AUDIE CORNISH, Host:

From NPR News, this is live special coverage of the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. I'm Audie Cornish. Today, in the heart of Lower Manhattan, at the foot of the Pentagon and in the rolling fields of Shanksville, Pennsylvania, Americans will honor and remember those lost in the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. We will bring you live to the ceremonies and events of the day. We'll talk with our correspondents around the country and around the globe.

We'll also hear voices of remembrance and reflection. We begin with the story of the day 10 years ago, a day that dawned bright and clear on the East Coast.

CARL KASELL: From NPR News in Washington, I'm Carl Kasell. President Bush is in Florida today, appearing at an elementary school in Sarasota to push his education reforms. NPR's Don Gonyea reports from the White House.

CORNISH: The big battle on Capitol Hill was over what to do with the budget surplus. Unemployment was less than 5 percent, and Michael Jordan was thinking of coming out of retirement a second time. The first hint that something was wrong came shortly after 8 a.m. A passenger plane out of Boston was missing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: American 1-1, the American on the frequency, how do you hear me?

CORNISH: Air-traffic controllers in Boston tried, but couldn't make contact with American Airlines Flight 11. It would be the first of four passenger planes hijacked by al-Qaida terrorists and ripped off course.

MALE: We just had a plane crash into Level 4 of the World Trade Center. Transmit a second alarm, and start relocating companies into the area.

CORNISH: Calls flooded New York City's emergency radio system.

MALE: The World Trade Center Tower Number 1 is on fire. The whole left side of the building - there was just a huge explosion.

MALE: Engine 1 out of Manhattan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE #5 Engine 1 out.

MALE: Engine 1 out. World Trade Center, 10-60. Send every available ambulance, everything you got, to the World Trade Center. Now.

CORNISH: As news of the crash hit the airwaves and smoke billowed from the North Tower, people turned on their televisions and watched in horror as United Flight 175 hurdled towards the South Tower.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We seen it from the front angle before, but not from this angle.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLANE ENGINE AND SCREAMING)

FEMALE: Then I heard a big bang, and then we saw smoke coming out and everybody started running out. And we saw the plane on the other side of the building, and there was smoke everywhere. And people were jumping out the windows.

CORNISH: As the towers burned, two more hijacked planes were in the air.

MALE: ..major fire at the Pentagon. The full, six-story height of the Pentagon is gone.

FEMALE: United 9-3, have you got information on that yet?

MALE: Yeah, he's down.

FEMALE: He's down?

MALE: Yes.

FEMALE: When did he land? Because we have confirmation of...

MALE: He did not land.

FEMALE: Oh, he's down?

MALE: Yes.

FEMALE: Down?

MALE: Somewhere off - northeast of Camp David.

CORNISH: American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the western wall of the Pentagon. United Flight 93 crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. And less than two hours after the first plane struck the World Trade Center, both towers collapsed. By mid-day, the White House, the National Mall and other iconic places were under guard of the U.S. military. That evening, President George W. Bush spoke from the Oval Office.

GEORGE W: The search is under way for those who are behind these evil acts. I've directed the full resources of our intelligence and law-enforcement communities to find those responsible, and to bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts, and those who harbor them.

CORNISH: That winter, American troops were on the ground in Afghanistan. Our national lexicon grew to include words and phrases like Taliban, war on terror, and enemy combatant. And soon, the United States made the controversial decision to plunge into a second war, in Iraq. It would be nearly 10 years before the leader of al-Qaida would be tracked down. President Barack Obama made this announcement in early May.

BARACK OBAMA: Tonight, I can report to the American people, and to the world, that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaida and a terrorist who's responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children.

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