President Barack Obama was in Lower Manhattan Thursday to dedicate the Sept. 11 Memorial Museum during a stirring ceremony that included moving tributes to the heroes and victims of the attacks that killed 3,000 people nearly 13 years ago.
Standing on a stage inside the cavernous underground museum, Obama told families it was his honor “to join in your memories. To remember and to reflect. But above all, to reaffirm the true spirit of 9/11—love, compassion, sacrifice—and to enshrine it forever in the heart of our nation.”
The president and First Lady Michelle Obama earlier in the day joined families of survivors for a tour of the museum and visited some of heart-wrenching exhibits. The museum tells the story of the horrifying attacks and those who perished, as well as the selfless heroes who risked their lives by charging into the burning towers before they collapsed, leaving only a searing pile of rubble. Some never made it out.
Obama began by telling the story of one of those heroes, 24-year-old Welles Crowther, who was in the South Tower when a plane struck the building. As the fire spread and heavy smoke began to swallow the room, Crowther, holding a red handkerchief, alerted others to the stairs and managed to safely guide countless people to safety. But he wasn’t done. Crowther went back inside the burning tower to find other survivors. The tower eventually collapsed with him inside.
“They didn’t know his name. They didn’t know where he came from. But they knew their lives had been saved by the man in the red bandana,” Obama said.
A red bandana is among the collection of artifacts displayed throughout the museum.
The president was also joined by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former New York City Mayors Michael Bloomberg and Rudolph Giuliani, plus other dignitaries.
Obama’s remarks largely focused on honoring the victims. He made one veiled reference to the attackers when he mentioned visiting Ground Zero three years ago this month “after our SEALs made sure that justice was done,” referencing the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, but never mentioning the slain al-Queda leader by name.
Speeches from family members and elected officials were interspersed with emotional video tributes to victims. Among those who perished during the attacks were more than 400 Long Islanders.
The museum, which opens to the public May 21, was originally scheduled to open 11 years after the attacks but has been mired in controversies, including soaring costs and the decision by the museum’s board to charge visitors a $24 fee. The mandatory charge does not, however, apply to Sept. 11 family members and rescue and recovery workers.
But the 3,000 lost souls were front-and-center on Thursday.
“Those we lost live on in us,” Obama said, “in the family’s who love them still, in the friends who will remember them always, and in a nation that will honor them now and forever.”