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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2017, file photo, people hold up signs with the names and pictures of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks during a ceremony at ground zero in New York. The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped how the U.S. is observing the anniversary of 9/11. The terror attacks' 19th anniversary will be marked Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, by dueling ceremonies at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza and a corner nearby in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

NEW YORK -- In a year when the coronavirus pandemic has reshaped countless American rituals, even today's commemoration of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks could not escape unchanged.

The 19th anniversary of the terror attacks will be marked by dueling ceremonies at the 9/11 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, while President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden plan to go to the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania.

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.

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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," said Jim Riches, who lost his son Jimmy, a firefighter.

Riches is staying home on the anniversary for the first time this year because he doesn't want to take chances with the coronavirus after an 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 said.

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 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: New York City, the Pentagon in Washington and a field near Shanksville, Pa.

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 several 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 today.

In New York, 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," said chairman Frank Siller. He said he may attend both observances to honor the brother he lost -- Stephen, a firefighter.

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.

FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2019, file photo, a photograph of fallen firefighter Leon Smith, Jr. is held up during a ceremony marking the 18th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 at the National September 11 Memorial, in New York. The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped how the U.S. is observing the anniversary of 9/11. The terror attacks' 19th anniversary will be marked Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, by dueling ceremonies at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza and a corner nearby in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2019, file photo, a photograph of fallen firefighter Leon Smith, Jr. is held up during a ceremony marking the 18th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 at the National September 11 Memorial, in New York. The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped how the U.S. is observing the anniversary of 9/11. The terror attacks' 19th anniversary will be marked Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, by dueling ceremonies at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza and a corner nearby in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2018, file photo, La-Shawn Clark, left, and Mark Cannizzaro read names of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks during a ceremony marking the 17th anniversary in New York. Clark lost her husband, Benjamin Clark, and Cannizzaro lost his cousin, Brian Cannizzaro. The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped how the U.S. is observing the anniversary of 9/11. The terror attacks' 19th anniversary will be marked Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, by dueling ceremonies at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza and a corner nearby in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2018, file photo, La-Shawn Clark, left, and Mark Cannizzaro read names of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks during a ceremony marking the 17th anniversary in New York. Clark lost her husband, Benjamin Clark, and Cannizzaro lost his cousin, Brian Cannizzaro. The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped how the U.S. is observing the anniversary of 9/11. The terror attacks' 19th anniversary will be marked Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, by dueling ceremonies at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza and a corner nearby in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2016, file photo, mourners hold a photo of their loved one during the 15th anniversary of the attacks of the World Trade Center at the National September 11 Memorial in New York. The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped how the U.S. is observing the anniversary of 9/11. The terror attacks' 19th anniversary will be marked Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, by dueling ceremonies at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza and a corner nearby in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2016, file photo, mourners hold a photo of their loved one during the 15th anniversary of the attacks of the World Trade Center at the National September 11 Memorial in New York. The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped how the U.S. is observing the anniversary of 9/11. The terror attacks' 19th anniversary will be marked Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, by dueling ceremonies at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza and a corner nearby in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2014, file photo, a woman places flowers in the inscribed names along the edge of the North Pool during memorial observances on the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped how the U.S. is observing the anniversary of 9/11. The terror attacks' 19th anniversary will be marked Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, by dueling ceremonies at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza and a corner nearby in New York. (AP Photo/Justin Lane, Pool, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2014, file photo, a woman places flowers in the inscribed names along the edge of the North Pool during memorial observances on the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped how the U.S. is observing the anniversary of 9/11. The terror attacks' 19th anniversary will be marked Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, by dueling ceremonies at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza and a corner nearby in New York. (AP Photo/Justin Lane, Pool, File)
FILE - In this May 3, 2012, file photo, retired firefighter Jim Riches poses for a picture near his home in New York. Riches, whose son was killed during the 2001 terrorist attacks, 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. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
FILE - In this May 3, 2012, file photo, retired firefighter Jim Riches poses for a picture near his home in New York. Riches, whose son was killed during the 2001 terrorist attacks, 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. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
FILE - In this May 1, 2020, file photo, Frank Siller, founder and president of Tunnel to Towers, speaks during an event to honor volunteers helping to battle the coronavirus, in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington. The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped how the U.S. is observing the anniversary of 9/11. Stiller's Tunnel to Towers Foundation arranged its own simultaneous ceremony a few blocks the main one at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, saying victims' relatives could recite names while keeping a safe distance. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
FILE - In this May 1, 2020, file photo, Frank Siller, founder and president of Tunnel to Towers, speaks during an event to honor volunteers helping to battle the coronavirus, in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington. The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped how the U.S. is observing the anniversary of 9/11. Stiller's Tunnel to Towers Foundation arranged its own simultaneous ceremony a few blocks the main one at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, saying victims' relatives could recite names while keeping a safe distance. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2018, file photo, New York City firefighters salute in front of a memorial on the side of a firehouse adjacent to One World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial site during ceremonies on the anniversary of 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York. Because of the coronavirus, the Fire Department has urged members to stay away from any of the 2020 observances of the 2001 terror strike that killed nearly the 3,000 people, among them almost 350 firefighters. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2018, file photo, New York City firefighters salute in front of a memorial on the side of a firehouse adjacent to One World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial site during ceremonies on the anniversary of 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York. Because of the coronavirus, the Fire Department has urged members to stay away from any of the 2020 observances of the 2001 terror strike that killed nearly the 3,000 people, among them almost 350 firefighters. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2017, file photo, the Tribute in Light illuminates in the sky above the Lower Manhattan area of New York, as seen from across the Hudson River in Jersey City, N.J. The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped how the U.S. is observing the anniversary of 9/11. The terror attacks' 19th anniversary will be marked Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, by dueling ceremonies at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza and a corner nearby in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2017, file photo, the Tribute in Light illuminates in the sky above the Lower Manhattan area of New York, as seen from across the Hudson River in Jersey City, N.J. The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped how the U.S. is observing the anniversary of 9/11. The terror attacks' 19th anniversary will be marked Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, by dueling ceremonies at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza and a corner nearby in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2015, file photo, victims' family members look on during a ceremony at the World Trade Center site in New York. The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped how the U.S. is observing the anniversary of 9/11. The terror attacks' 19th anniversary will be marked Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, by dueling ceremonies at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza and a corner nearby in New York. (AP Photo/Bryan R. Smith, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 11, 2015, file photo, victims' family members look on during a ceremony at the World Trade Center site in New York. The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped how the U.S. is observing the anniversary of 9/11. The terror attacks' 19th anniversary will be marked Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, by dueling ceremonies at the Sept. 11 memorial plaza and a corner nearby in New York. (AP Photo/Bryan R. Smith, File)
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