20 Unforgettable 9/11 Photos That Tell the Story of American Tragedy and Triumph

NYC Firefighter on 9/11

Twenty years ago, our country changed forever. Our very own Katie was on the air at Today as news broke of a plane crashing into one of the World Trade Center towers, and she chronicled the story live. What at first seemed like a terrible accident soon revealed itself to be something much more sinister — an attack on the fabric of American democracy.

One plane at the World Trade Center became two, and then another attack struck the Pentagon building. A fourth plane, United Flight 93, was also hijacked; investigators believe it was headed for the White House or U.S. Capitol, but brave passengers took over before the plane crashed in a field, saving untold innocent lives.

It’s been 20 years, but 9/11 is far from a historical event. It still feels present — the losses are still being grieved, the survivors are still struggling with unique mental health challenges, and the ramifications of how the U.S. responded are still being felt in Afghanistan as American troops have finally withdrawn from the country’s longest war in history.

Katie recently caught up with some of the people she met while covering their heartbreaking personal stories in 2001, and her moving conversations with people like Kevin Hickey, who lost his firefighter father when he was only 9 years old; Jennifer Oberstein, who watched the horror in New York City firsthand; and Annelise Peterson, who lost her brother and fiancé that day, are important reminders of how this tragedy reverberates through time.

For those of us who watched the attacks unfold as they happened, the images from that day are seared into our memory forever. And yet somehow it’s still shocking to see them again. Below are a few of the unforgettable photographs from Sept. 11 and the days that followed. They depict tragedy, pain, and terror, but also the resilience and unity that gripped the nation as fearless rescue workers sprung into action and mourners from across the country came together to honor those lost.

A fiery blasts rocks the World Trade Center after being hit by two planes. (Getty Images)

The moment President George W. Bush learned of the attacks: Chief of Staff Andrew Card alerts Bush of the events in New York City during a visit to a school in Sarasota, Florida. (Getty Images)

People hang from the windows of the North Tower of the World Trade Center after a hijacked airliner hit the building. (Getty Images)

Smoke comes out from the Southwest E-ring of the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., after a plane crashed into the building and set off a huge explosion. (Getty Images)

Officials examine the crater at the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. After being hijacked, the plane crashed in the field, killing all 45 people on board. (Getty Images)

People on the streets of Manhattan watch in horror as the Twin Towers burn. (Getty Images)

The south tower of the World Trade Center collapses. (Getty Images)

First responders run away from the huge dust cloud caused as the World Trade Center’s Tower One collapsesy. (Getty Images)

People walk in the street in the area where the World Trade Center buildings collapsed. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As seen from New Jersey, smoke hangs over South Manhattan after the collapse of the Twin Towers. (Getty Images)

New York Daily News staff photographer David Handschuh was carried from the World Trade Center site after his leg was shattered by falling debris while photographing the terrorist attack. (Getty Images)

A New York City firefighter walks away from Ground Zero after the collapse of the Twin Towers. (Getty Images)

A rescue worker is pulled from the rubble of the World Trade Center on Sept. 13, two days after the attack. (Getty Images)

Rescue workers sift through the wreckage of the World Trade Center on Sept. 13, 2001. (Getty Images)

President George W. Bush rallies firefighters and rescue workers during an impromptu speech at the site of the collapsed World Trade Center on Sept. 14, 2001. (Getty Images).

Mary Ortale of Brooklyn, holds a picture of herself with her missing husband, Peter, on Sept. 15, 2001. (Getty Images)

The reflection of a New Yorker stares through photographs of missing people posters posted outside Bellevue Hospital. (Getty Images)

A man wrapped in an American flag attends a candlelight vigil in Central Park for victims of the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 15, 2001. (Getty Images)

New Yorkers set up a monument “to the victims of terrorist attacks” and a candlelight vigil with notes and gifts to commemorate the missing. (Getty Images)

Concert-goers cheer at the sold-out United We Stand concert on Oct. 21, 2001, at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC. (Getty Images)