In a year of restrictions, virus changes Sept. 11, too

    (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow, File)

    (AP) — In a year when the coronavirus pandemic has reshaped countless American rituals, even the commemoration of 9/11 could not escape unchanged.

    The 19th anniversary of the terror attacks will be marked by dueling ceremonies at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza and a corner near the World Trade Center, reflecting a divide over the memorial’s decision to suspend a cherished tradition of relatives reading victims’ names in person. Vice President Mike Pence is expected at both those remembrances in New York, and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at the observance on the memorial plaza.

    President Donald Trump and Biden both plan to go to the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania — at different times. Trump is speaking at a morning ceremony, with Biden paying respects in the afternoon.

    In New York, the double beams of light that evoke the fallen twin towers were nearly canceled in the name of virus safety, until an uproar restored the tribute. The Fire Department has cited the virus in urging members to skip observances of the 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, among them almost 350 firefighters.

    Some victims’ relatives say they understand the ground zero observance had to change in a year when so much else has. Others fear the pandemic is making plain what they have feared was happening unspoken: that the commitment to “Never Forget” is fading.

    “It’s another smack in the face,” says Jim Riches, who lost his son Jimmy, a firefighter.

    The father is staying home on the anniversary for the first time this year because he doesn’t want to take chances with the coronavirus after a prior illness. But he feels others should have the option of reciting the names of the dead on the memorial plaza, instead of listening to a recording.

    Memorial leaders said they wanted to avoid close contact among readers, who are usually paired at the podium. But to Riches, a retired fire battalion chief and frequent critic of the memorial organization, the decision sounds like an excuse for sidelining the families’ role in commemorating 9/11.

    “I wish they wouldn’t forget, but they’re trying to,” he says.

    But Anthoula Katsimatides sees the differences this year as an effort to ensure victims’ relatives feel comfortable attending — including her mother, who hasn’t left home since March because health issues make her especially worried about the virus. But she is determined to go in honor of her son John, a bond trader, her daughter said.

    While many events have been called off this year, “this wasn’t canceled. It’s just been changed in such a way where we still get to pay tribute to our loved ones in a respectful and safe way,” said Katsimatides, who’s on the memorial board. She says the change wasn’t motivated by anything except a public health emergency.

    “Who expected COVID-19? ... It was completely unforeseen. As was 9/11,” she said.

    This year’s plans have been a balancing act at the sites where hijacked planes piloted by al-Qaida terrorists crashed on Sept. 11, 2001: New York, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

    The Flight 93 memorial near Shanksville is trimming its usual 90-minute ceremony, partly by eliminating musical interludes. Memorial spokeswoman Katherine Cordek said victims’ names would be read, but by one person instead of multiple family members.

    Military leaders will conduct the Pentagon’s ceremony without victims’ families in attendance, and their loved ones’ names will be recited by a recording, rather than readers on-site. Victims’ relatives can visit the Pentagon’s memorial in small groups later Friday.

    In New York — where the nation’s deadliest coronavirus spike happened early this spring but has since been fairly well contained — leaders of the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum said their plan for a no-reading ceremony would honor both virus precautions and 9/11 families’ attachment to being at ground zero on the anniversary.

    But another 9/11-related organization, the Stephen Stiller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, quickly arranged its own simultaneous ceremony a few blocks away, saying victims’ relatives could recite names while keeping a safe distance.

    “We need to keep letting America know what happened 19 years ago. And they need to see that emotion of the day, not a recording,” says chairman Frank Siller. He says he may attend both observances to honor the brother he lost, firefighter Stephen.

    Tensions over anniversary plans flared anew when the memorial announced last month it was nixing the Tribute in Light, twin blue beams that shine into the night sky over lower Manhattan. While there’s no official gathering to view the lights, the memorial cited virus risks to the installation crew.

    The cancellation outraged some victims’ relatives, police and fire unions and politicians, who noted that construction sites around the city were deemed safe to reopen months ago. After the Tunnel to Towers foundation said it would organize the display on its own, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, the memorial’s billionaire chairman, stepped in to keep the memorial-sponsored lights on. (Tunnel to Towers is now stationing lights at the Flight 93 memorial and the Pentagon.)

    Memorial President Alice Greenwald later said the organization “should have approached this issue differently.”

    Katismatides, the board member, foresees the ceremony returning to normal next year.

    Debra Epps has been to the ground zero ceremony every year. She said it means a lot to her to read names and add a few words in tribute to her brother Christopher, an accountant.

    Still, she thinks the memorial was right to forgo the live name-reading this year. The virus has her concerned enough that she’s not planning to attend.

    “It really is a hard decision to make, but I know that we’re still in this pandemic,” said Epps, who works in health care.

    “I will remember my brother, no matter what,” she said.

    More from News

    • Tiny House Raffle today to benefit CASA

      The Texarkana Children's Advocacy Center and Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and Texarkana College have teamed up to raffle a tiny house and there's only a few hours left today to get tickets.

    • Reminder: Waiver Still in Effect for CDLs

      The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) is reminding the public that the State of Disaster Declaration in response to COVID-19 remains in effect, and includes the waiver of expiration dates for commercial driver licenses (CDL).

    • AG Paxton Sues Precious Metals IRA and Bullion Coin Scheme that Defrauded Senior Investors of Over $185 Million

       Attorney General Ken Paxton and the Texas State Securities Board joined the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and 29 other states to prevent Metals.com, Chase Metal, Barrick Capital, and others from continuing to defraud elderly people across the United States by convincing them to convert their retirement savings into precious metals.

    • Redwater ISD Receives 2020 National Blue Ribbon Honors

      All campuses nominated by TEA in February were awarded this prestigious designation

    • Harvesting Hope, One Food Box at a Time

      Food Bank to Host Fourth Drive-Thru Mobile Pantry Event

    • University of Arkansas lifts testing requirements for 2021

      (AP) — The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville has decided to change some testing requirements to give prospective freshman more options for enrollment next year.

    • Republicans sue Texas governor over expanded early voting

      Gov. Greg Abbott, who has refused calls to expand mail-in voting in Texas during the coronavirus pandemic, was sued Wednesday by prominent members of his own party who now want to halt the biggest change he instead ordered for November’s election — extending early voting by a week.

    • Lawsuit filed over Arkansas absentee ballot rejections

      A lawsuit filed Tuesday asks a federal judge to require Arkansas election officials to give absentee voters a chance to correct their ballots before they’re rejected due to signature issues.

    • Texas Voters Need to Register by Oct. 5 for November Election

      It typically takes less than five minutes to register to vote, but the pandemic has made it harder to reach first-time voters. That's why MOVE Texas plans to call 100,000 unregistered voters as part of Tuesday's National Voter Registration Day.

    • Two men arrested on drug charges in Hope

      Officers with Arkansas Community Corrections, Agents of the 8 North Task Force and deputies of the HCSO arrested 53-year-old Robert Gulliams and 58-year-old Bobby Cobb after conducting an investigation into narcotic activity at 1705 Wilson Street, in Hope, AR.

    • Mass flu clinic this week

      Health experts are urging everyone to get their flu shot as soon as possible with Arkansas holding flu vaccination clinics across the state this week.

    • October Drug Take Back Day

      On Saturday, October 24th, from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. the Texarkana Arkansas Police Department, Miller County Sheriffs Office, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Miller County Prosecutor’s Office will give the public an opportunity to prevent pill abuse and theft by ridding their homes of potentially dangerous expired, unused, and unwanted prescription drugs for the October Drug Take Back Day.

    Today's Weather

    • Texarkana, TX

      Sunny

      High: 72°F | Low: 50°F

    Events