Friday, September 11, 2009

Eight years.

Americans are almost 3,000 days removed from the Sept. 11 terror attacks that toppled the World Trade Center and killed 3,000 people — nearly the same amount of time it took al Qaeda plotters to regroup from their failed bid to take down the Twin Towers in 1993.

While former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani says not a day goes by that he doesn’t think of Sept. 11, for most Americans, that crisp, sunny morning of horror seems a lifetime ago, and, frankly, something they’d rather forget.

“It’s natural — as time goes by, people’s memories fade, they move on to other things. The important thing is that people in the country realize, whether they remember it as vividly as they did then, that it’s not part of our history. This is part of our present,” Mr. Giuliani said.

“The same forces that attacked us on Sept. 11 are alive and planning and plotting. It’s something we haven’t resolved yet, so we’d better remember it in that sense, and some of the lessons that we’ve learned from it.”

Mr. Giuliani and former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge were Republicans at the center of America’s worst terrorist attack and its aftermath. In separate interviews Thursday, they called for Americans to support President Obama on the war in Afghanistan.

“If all of his political allies walk out on him, I am more than willing to be standing there with him, supporting him on Afghanistan,” Mr. Giuliani said.

“It’s clear,” Mr. Ridge said, “that when the Taliban reigned, they gave al Qaeda an open door to recruit and to train and use Afghanistan as the epicenter of their efforts. I don’t think we can afford the luxury of complacency.”

In many ways, Sept. 11 has evolved into a reminder of war — in this case, one unpopular war, Iraq, and another on which the American people are beginning to sour. In a recent CNN poll, 57 percent of respondents say they oppose the war in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates recently acknowledged a “certain war weariness on the part of the American people.”

Soldiers are facing renewed opposition from a resurgent Taliban, which shielded al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden for years. August was the deadliest month in the nearly 8-year-old war, with 46 U.S. soldiers killed. The United States now has about 62,000 U.S. troops on the ground, and NATO allies have another 35,000. The Pentagon is planning to add 6,000 troops by the end of the year.

Mr. Obama is preparing to commit even more troops and resources to Afghanistan, but inside the administration, some top officials express doubts about escalating what is now being called “Obama’s war.” Some political pundits have dubbed the conflict “Obama’s Vietnam.”

Americans — even former President George W. Bush — have moved on in some ways, although Mr. Bush, like Mr. Giuliani, said he thinks about the attacks every single day. Each anniversary that passed became more somber, but also more measured, more distant.

In 2002, Mr. Bush visited all three crash sites on Sept. 11, delivering remarks at the Pentagon, laying a wreath with Flight 93 family members in Shanksville, Pa., and visiting ground zero in New York City. He also delivered an address to the nation that evening.

In 2007, on the sixth anniversary, the president and Vice President Dick Cheney held only a moment of silence on the White House lawn to commemorate when the first of two planes struck the World Trade Center.

Like Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama plans a subdued marking of the day. The president will observe a moment of silence on the White House South Lawn, then he will attend a ceremony at the Pentagon and deliver a speech, but plans no trip to either New York City or Shanksville. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will attend a ceremony in New York.

Congress and Mr. Obama in April declared Sept. 11 a federally recognized National Day of Service and Remembrance. In New York, volunteers will read the names of the dead at the memorial observances at the World Trade Center site, a task traditionally done by victims’ family members.

The Corporation for National and Community Service is supporting volunteer activities in all 50 states, working with nonprofit organizations, faith-based groups, businesses and individuals to “help rekindle the remarkable spirit of unity, service and compassion shared by so many in the immediate aftermath of the attacks,” the group’s Web site says.

Anniversary ceremonies appear to be understated again this year. For instance, family and friends of those who perished in Shanksville will gather atop the wind-swept hill, but one family member of a victim plans another remembrance. Ken Nacke, whose brother Louis Joseph Nacke II, known as Joey, died a hero on Flight 93, along with 39 other people, will complete the journey — by motorcycle.

Mr. Nacke and six other bikers, joined by a caravan of family and friends in cars, are taking a 3,000-mile ride from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco, marking the route the jetliner would have taken on Sept. 11, 2001. They left Newark Liberty International Airport Sept. 3 at 8:52 a.m. — the time Flight 93 departed on the morning of Sept. 11. After a stop this week in Shanksville, they will arrive in San Francisco on Friday.

“These were total strangers banding together, making a choice to stand up and not let others dictate how their lives were going to end,” said Patrick White, a cousin of Mr. Nacke.

“They knew what was going on that day and they did what they had to do … and their actions were heroic. We are quite proud and so, through this memorial, we want their message of hope to continue.”

The permanent Flight 93 National Memorial is on track to be dedicated on Sept. 11, 2011, the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. The federal government will provide $9.5 million toward land purchases from eight Pennsylvania property owners with extra funds for the memorial being raised by families and other corporate and individual supporters around the nation for the $58 million, 2,200-acre project of the U.S. National Park Service.

Now, though, all that stands there is a temporary memorial, a 6-by-8-foot section of chain-link fence lined with keepsakes left by some of the more than 1 million people who have visited the site since the crash.

The World Trade Center site remains a gaping hole in the ground. But work is underway for a massive memorial there — an eight-acre site with twin reflecting pools with cascading waterfalls where the towers stood, surrounded by the names of the nearly 3,000 victims. Some parts of the memorial are expected to open in 2011.

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has announced that Sept. 11 victims’ families will be able to descend to the World Trade Center and pay their respects, even though the site is under construction. While a long ramp was removed for construction of the memorial, families will be allowed into a newly built upper level of the memorial site.

There, they will be able to see the symbolic final steel beam removed from the rubble of the World Trade Center after the attacks, which was returned to ground zero last month. The “Last Column” — covered in tributes from workers, rescue personnel and family members before it was removed from the site in May 2002 marking the end of the recovery efforts — was set as one of the centerpieces of the future memorial museum.

More than $350 million has been raised privately for the memorial.

• Audrey Hudson and Andrea Billups contributed to this report.

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