A changed America marks 10 years since 9/11

Posted Sept. 11, 2011, at 9:32 a.m.
Last modified Sept. 11, 2011, at 6:33 p.m.

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One World Trade Center overlooks the ground zero memorial site last night.
AP
One World Trade Center overlooks the ground zero memorial site last night.
President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush mark the 10th anniversary of the attacks at World Trade Center, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011 in New York.
AP
President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush mark the 10th anniversary of the attacks at World Trade Center, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011 in New York.
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush bow their heads during a moment of silence at Ground Zero in New York, Sunday, Sept., 11, 2011 in New York.
AP
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush bow their heads during a moment of silence at Ground Zero in New York, Sunday, Sept., 11, 2011 in New York.
President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush greet family members of those who died during the attacks on the World Trade Center during a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the attack.
AP
President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush greet family members of those who died during the attacks on the World Trade Center during a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the attack.
People gather on a hilltop overlooking phase I of the permanent Flight 93 National Memorial before its dedication near the crash site of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa. Saturday Sept. 10, 2011.
AP
People gather on a hilltop overlooking phase I of the permanent Flight 93 National Memorial before its dedication near the crash site of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa. Saturday Sept. 10, 2011.
Paige and Mark Oliver walk with flags from Grace Community Church in Kennesaw, Ga., to Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park to help commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
AP
Paige and Mark Oliver walk with flags from Grace Community Church in Kennesaw, Ga., to Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park to help commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

NEW YORK — President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush stood in silence Sunday and a church bell rang twice on 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.”

Former President George W. 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 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.

The relatives — some in solemn, black suits, others in fire department T-shirts — crowded into a space in front of a podium where Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Bush and his wife, Laura, watched solemnly above the memorial. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg served as master of ceremonies.

At sunrise, an American flag fluttered over six stories of the rising 1 World Trade Center. The sky was clear blue with scattered white clouds and a light breeze, not unlike the Tuesday morning 10 years ago.

The site was utterly changed from previous Sept. 11 anniversaries. Along with the names in bronze, there were two manmade waterfalls where the towers once stood. Dozens of white oak trees competed for sunlight with surrounding skyscrapers.

Elijah Portillo, 17, whose father was killed in the attack, said he had never wanted to attend the anniversary because he thought he would feel angry. But this time was different, he said.

“Time to be a big boy,” Elijah said. “Time to not let things hold you back. Time to just step out into the world and see how things are.”

Remembrances around the nation and world were planned to mark a decade of longing for loved ones lost in the attack. Of sending sons, daughters, fathers and mothers off to war in foreign lands. Of redefining what safety means and worrying about another 9/11 — or something even worse.

The anniversary revived memories of a September morning when terrorists crashed hijacked planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and a fourth plane crashed into a field in rural western Pennsylvania. It was a time to recall heroism and Samaritans and unthinkable fear and of nearly 3,000 killed at the hands of a global terror network led by Osama bin Laden, himself now dead.

People across America planned to gather to pray at cathedrals in their greatest cities and to lay roses before fire stations in their smallest towns. Around the world, many others will do something similar because so much changed for them on that day, too.

But much of the weight of this year’s ceremonies lies in what will largely go unspoken. There’s the anniversary’s role in prompting Americans to consider how the attacks affected them and the larger world and the continuing struggle to understand 9/11′s place in the lore of the nation.

“A lot’s going on in the background,” said Ken Foote, author of “Shadowed Ground: America’s Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy,” examining the role that veneration of sites of death and disaster plays in modern life. “These anniversaries are particularly critical in figuring out what story to tell, in figuring out what this all means. It forces people to figure out what happened to us.”

On Saturday in rural western Pennsylvania, more than 4,000 people began to tell the story again.

At the dedication of the Flight 93 National Memorial near the town of Shanksville, Bush and former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden joined the families of the 40 passengers and crew aboard the jet who fought back against their hijackers.

“The moment America’s democracy was under attack our citizens defied their captors by holding a vote,” Bush said. Their choice cost them their lives.

The passengers and crew gave “the entire country an incalculable gift: They saved the Capitol from attack,” an untold amount of lives and denied al-Qaida the symbolic victory of “smashing the center of American government,” Clinton said.

They were “ordinary people given no time at all to decide and they did the right thing,” he said.

“And 2,500 years from now, I hope and pray to God that people will still remember this.”

The Pennsylvania memorial park is years from completion. But the dedication and a service to mark the 10th anniversary of the attacks are critical milestones, said Sally Ware, one of the volunteer “ambassadors” who has worked as a guide at the site since the disaster.

Ware, whose home was rocked when the jet crashed two miles away, recalled how hundreds of people flocked to the site in the days afterward to leave their own mementos and memorials. She began volunteering after finding one along the roadside — a red rose placed atop a flight attendant’s uniform.

“It really bothered me. I thought someone has to take care of this,” said Ware, whose daughter is a flight attendant.

Now, a decade later, she said the memorial may do little to ease the grief of the families of those who died in the crash.

But the weekend’s ceremonies recall a story with far broader reach. The ceremonies honor those who “fought the first battle against terrorism — and they won,” Ware said. “It’s something I don’t want to miss. It’s become a part of my life.”

As the anniversary arrived around the world, people paid tribute in formal ceremonies and quiet moments.

In Japan, they gathered Sunday to lay flowers before a glass case containing a small section of trade center steel, and remembered 23 employees of Fuji Bank who never made it out of the towers.

A village in the Philippines offered roses, balloons and prayers for an American victim whose widower built 50 brightly colored homes there, fulfilling his late wife’s wish to help the Filipino poor.

In Malaysia, Pathmawathy Navaratnam woke up and, as she has done every morning for 10 years, wished “good morning” to her son, a 23-year-old financial analyst who was killed in New York.

“He is my sunshine. He has lived life to the fullest, but I can’t accept that he is not here anymore,” said Navaratnam. “I am still living, but I am dead inside.”

In a reminder of the war that started in the wake of the attacks, 77 American soldiers were wounded when a Taliban suicide bomber detonated a truck bomb outside the gates of a U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan. Two Afghans were also killed.

On Sunday, the focus turns to ceremonies at the Pentagon, just outside Washington, D.C., and in lower Manhattan for the dedication of the national Sept. 11 memorial. Obama was attending events at the sites and planned to speak at a Sunday evening service at the Kennedy Center.

The New York ceremony begins at 8:30 a.m., with a moment of silence 16 minutes later — coinciding with the exact time when the first tower of the trade center was struck by a hijacked jet.

And then, one by one, the reading of the names of the 2,977 killed on Sept. 11 — in New York, at the Pentagon and in rural Pennsylvania.

Associated Press writers Adam Geller in New York and Joe Mandak in Shanksville, Pa., contributed to this report.

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