WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden will head to Shanksville, Pennsylvania — home of the Flight 93 National Memorial — to mark the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Trump will attend the memorial service in the morning and Biden will visit in the afternoon to honor those who died that day or from illness later in that key presidential swing state, leaving some 9/11 veterans uneasy about the political implications of those appearances.
But the importance and gravity of the day are expected to overshadow any political undertones, as New Yorkers hold ceremonies on Long Island and in Manhattan, where a tape of the names of the victims will be played at Ground Zero and read in-person a few blocks away.
Trump, first lady Melania Trump and U.S. Department of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt will attend the Shanksville ceremony to honor the 40 passengers and crew members who fought the hijackers as their flight crashed, said the National Park Service, which operates the memorial.
The ceremony will be shortened from its usual 90 minutes to about 20 minutes, just long enough to read the 40 names of those who died, ring the bells in the tower and for some brief remarks, according to a National Park Service spokeswoman.
The ceremony will be closed to the public to limit COVID-19 spread, at the request of the families, but will be livestreamed and aired on C-SPAN.
Biden and his wife, Jill, will start the day by traveling to New York City to attend the 9/11 Memorial & Museum's 19th anniversary commemoration ceremony. In the afternoon, they will travel to Shanksville "to pay their respects to the victims of Flight 93," the campaign said in an advisory Thursday night.
Penn State University-Harrisburg political science professor Daniel J. Mallinson said with less than two months to go before the Nov. 3 elections, “I would imagine that for both sides it has political implications.”
Mallinson called Pennsylvania “a natural place to campaign” for both Trump and Biden.
“There are a lot of Trump supporters in Pennsylvania, especially in more rural parts of the state,” he said.
“But there's also a lot of working class voters in Pennsylvania, and clearly Joe Biden is trying to connect to that group, and peel away voters who voted for Obama, and then voted for Trump,” Mallinson said.
Yet neither Trump nor Biden is likely to campaign to avoid charges of politicizing what should be a solemn day.
In 2004, some families who lost loved ones criticized the reelection campaign of then-President George W. Bush for politicizing 9/11 with three ads showing fleeting images of the Twin Towers’ collapse and firefighters working at Ground Zero.
Since 2004, the nonprofit group 9/11 Day has sent letters to candidates for president asking them to voluntarily suspend their campaigns and ads on 9/11 and declare it a day of service.
All candidates have complied, including Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016, said 9/11 Day co-founder Jay Winuk. His brother Glenn Winuk, an attorney and volunteer Jericho firefighter, died at Ground Zero.
“In 2016, I stood at Ground Zero in between candidate Clinton and candidate Trump,” Winuk recalled.
This year, Winuk said he had not heard back from either campaign.
But the Biden campaign said in an email that it will pull down its ads Friday.
The Trump campaign did not respond to a query.
In 2017 and 2019, Trump made remarks at the Pentagon, but in 2018 — a congressional midterm election year — he appeared and spoke at the memorial in Shanksville.
Biden took part in ceremonies as vice president, making remarks at the Pentagon in 2016 in his last year in office.
Trump and Biden understand that it’s a solemn day, said Mollie Fullington, a Republican campaign strategist who served as press secretary to former Gov. George Pataki, who led New York State at the time of the attacks on the World Trade Center.
“I don't think it's unusual for elected officials to show their respect and I think it's wonderful that they do that,” Fullington said. “They need to show the utmost respect and reverence for the losses of that day, the families who have been forever affected, and the role that 9/11 plays in our country's history.”
John Feal of Nesconset, a longtime advocate for 9/11 first responders who was a construction manager at Ground Zero in 2001, said he’s glad Trump and Biden are honoring Flight 93.
But Feal said, “This seems like a political move. 9/11 is sacred to those who are affected by that horrific Tuesday morning, and to make this political by either party is simply not right.”
Retired New York City firefighter Michael O'Connell of Westbury said, "You hope that they are doing it with great respect. I've never seen anything but both candidates being respectful of civil servants and police.”