WATCH: U.S. Army Helicopters Fly Over Ground Zero Proudly Displaying American Flag

by Jennifer Shea

U.S. Army helicopters displaying the American flag in their cabins flew over Ground Zero recently. It was a touching tribute to the lives lost on 9/11.

The gesture also served as a reminder that America has bounced back from that unspeakable tragedy. Sept. 11 claimed nearly 3,000 lives and saw the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon destroyed.

Twenty Years After 9/11, Ground Zero Rebuilding Continues

In the two decades since Sept. 11, 2001, Ground Zero has gradually lost the feel of a disaster area, then a construction zone. It now plays host to an atmosphere of solemn remembrance.

In 2011, a memorial plaza with twin reflecting pools opened to the public, the Associated Press reports. In 2014, One World Trade Center opened. (The high-reaching spire was originally called the Freedom Tower.) Then, in 2016, an underground transit center and shopping mall opened their doors.

Still unfinished are two more skyscrapers. A performing arts center and a church also remain under construction. Scattered cranes and construction fences still litter Ground Zero. They serve as a reminder that even two decades after the attacks, the work of rebuilding remains unfinished.

Army National Guard Members Recall 9/11

Twenty years after that fateful Tuesday, New York Army National Guard members shared their memories of that harrowing morning. They had been aware of the possibility that terrorists would attack the U.S. homeland. But they were still shocked when it happened, the soldiers told a New York National Guard member in a post on the Army’s website.

National Guard soldiers showed up at the armory before they had even been summoned, Maj. Gen. Thomas Maguire recalled. After the planes hit the World Trade Center, they knew they’d be called on to respond.

By the close of that day, more than 4,000 Guardsmen had been called into active duty. About 1,500 of them were in lower Manhattan, many at Ground Zero, helping first responders. Meanwhile, New York’s Air National Guard quickly got two jets from the 174th Fighter Wing into the air. Their mission: to chase down Flight 93. The last hijacked plane would ultimately crash into an empty field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

“All of us, I was in shock of what occurred and was amazed at the devastation to the towers and the surrounding area,” then-Maj. Edward Keyrouze said. “The dust and debris was everywhere and lasted for weeks.”

National Guard Soldiers Helped Begin Work of Rebuilding

For most of their lives, the New York Guardsmen had known the Twin Towers as a symbol of New York, their home state. And now the seemingly indestructible skyscrapers were gone.

“I recalled the Twin Towers being erected when I was a boy and had visited the site many times over the years when in Manhattan,” Lt. Col. Todd Summers said. “It literally took my breath away to see the destruction. But at the end of the day, I was a soldier, an officer, with a duty to perform.”

The place felt like a war zone, they said. And for the soldiers, who had been serving in peacetime, it was an omen of things to come.

But at that moment, they were busy pulling bodies out of the rubble and beginning the work that continues at Ground Zero to this very day.