A day to remember

Updated: 2011-09-12 07:24

By Mark Egan, Basil Katz and Steve Holland (Agencies)

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NEW YORK - Americans on Sunday remembered the horror of Sept 11, 2001, and the nearly 3,000 people who died in the hijacked plane attacks as authorities worked to ensure the emotional 10th anniversary was peaceful.

A day to remember

US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle embrace family members of 9/11 victims at the north pool of the memorial during a ceremony on Sunday marking the 10th anniversary of the attacks in New York. [Photo/Agencies]

President Barack Obama and former president George W. Bush stood in silence on Sunday and a church bell rang twice at the precise moment ten years after the first jetliner struck the World Trade Center.

Obama read Psalm 46 that reminds the faithful that God is a refuge and strength that dwells in "his city."

Bush read a civil war letter from president Abraham Lincoln to a mother who lost all five of her sons.

As cellist Yo Yo Ma played mournful background music, relatives of the Sept 11 dead began entering a transformed Ground Zero, the centerpiece of a day of mourning and remembrance around the nation and world to mark 10 years since the worst terrorist attack on American soil.

The heart of the ceremony to consecrate the memorial began with the reading of the names of nearly 3,000 people who died in the attacks.

The memorial opens to the public on Monday. It sits next to a construction project where office towers, a transportation hub and a cultural center are taking shape. The signature skyscraper, One World Trade Center, is rising quickly and will be the tallest in the country when completed.

Thousands gathered on a clear Sunday morning to grieve where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood. With security high and no traffic, there was an eerie silence where a decade ago the 110-storey skyscrapers collapsed after being hit by hijacked airliners, sending a cloud over lower Manhattan.

The somber ceremony - with bagpipes, youthful voices singing the national anthem and firefighters holding aloft a tattered American flag retrieved from Ground Zero - drew tears. Family members wore T-shirts with the faces of the dead, carried photos, flowers and flags in an outpouring of emotion.

For the first time, relatives saw the just-finished memorial and touched the etched names of their dead loved ones. Some left flowers, others small teddy bears. Some used pencils to trace the names on paper, others took a photograph.

Many wept as the names of the dead were read, by wives and husbands, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers and children, some choked with emotion at their personal loss.

"I haven't stopped missing my dad. He was awesome," said Peter Negron, who was just a child when his father, Pete, was killed in one of the stricken towers. "I wish my dad had been there to teach me how to drive, ask a girl out on a date and see me graduate from high school and a hundred other things I can't even begin to name."

The al-Qaida attacks of 2001 are now such a part of American life that they have been included in the school curriculum. This was the first anniversary that included a US president.

The memorial includes two plazas in the shape of the footprints of the Twin Towers with cascading 9-meter waterfalls. Around the perimeters of pools in the center of each plaza are the names of the victims of the Sept 11 attacks and an earlier 1993 attack at the trade center.

"Ten years have passed since a perfect blue sky morning turned into the blackest of nights," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said during the ceremony.

A day to remember

US Ambassador to China Gary Locke and his family float lanterns, a traditional Chinese way of paying respects to the dead, at a commemorative event in Beijing on Sunday night to pay condolences to the victims of the Sept 11 terror attacks in 2001. [Photo/ China Daily]

"Since then, we've lived in sunshine and in shadow, and although we can never unsee what happened here, we can also see that children who lost their parents have grown into young adults, grandchildren have been born and good works and public service have taken root to honor those we loved and lost."

Obama visited the North Memorial Pool, which sits in the footprint of the north tower. He walked around the pool hand-in-hand with first lady Michelle Obama, former president George W. Bush and his wife, Laura.

In a somber moment, Obama touched the names of the dead, engraved in stone, before he greeted some family members.

Police in New York and Washington were on high alert against a "credible but unconfirmed" threat of an al-Qaida plot to attack the US again on the 10th anniversary.

Security was especially tight in Manhattan, where police set up vehicle checks on city streets as well as bridges and tunnels coming into the city. There was an unprecedented show of force in Manhattan from roadblocks on Times Square in midtown to the area around Ground Zero farther to the south.

"It was our Pearl Harbor," said John McGillicuddy, 33, a teacher from Yonkers, New York, getting coffee and carrying two American flags on his way to the World Trade Center, referring to the Japanese attack that led America to join World War II.

"Every year, September is always rough," he said, as he prepared to grieve his uncle, Lieutenant Joseph Leavey, a New York firefighter who died in the south tower.

Pope Benedict prayed for Sept 11 victims and appealed to those with grievances to "always reject violence as a solution to problems and resist the temptation to resort to hate".

In the Sept 11 attacks, 19 men hijacked airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon outside Washington and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Just weeks after the attacks, US forces invaded Afghanistan to topple that country's Taliban rulers who had harbored the al-Qaida leaders responsible for the Sept 11 attacks.

Obama was set to visit all three attack sites on Sunday.

"There should be no doubt: today, America is stronger and al-Qaida is on the path to defeat," Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address on Saturday.

In Afghanistan, NATO-led forces said on Sunday that on the eve of the 10th anniversary a suicide bomber driving a truck of firewood attacked a NATO base in central Afghanistan in an operation for which the Taliban later claimed responsibility.

NATO said that the Saturday afternoon attack killed four Afghan civilians and injured 77 NATO troops.

US forces killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May.

Sunday's Ground Zero ceremony had moments of silence marking when the planes hit the twin towers as well as when they collapsed. Other moments of silence marked when a plane hit the Pentagon and another crashed in Shanksville after passengers fought back against the hijackers.

Sunday's ceremony was the biggest of a weekend of such events from coast to coast.

A decade later, after a faltering start, there are signs of rebuilding progress at the World Trade Center. The new One World Trade Center rises more than 80 stories above the ground as it inches to its planned 541 meters height, or 1,776 feet - symbolic of the year America declared independence from Britain.

The memorial plaza is ready and the neighborhood has enjoyed a revival, making it a trendy Manhattan place to live.