US President Barack Obama marked the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by emphasizing Americans’ perseverance, saying that for all the wars, disruptions and soul-searching of the past decade the country’s values and optimism remain.
“Our character as a nation has not changed,” the president told Americans last night in televised remarks during a memorial concert at the Kennedy Centre in Washington. “America does not give in to fear.”
His words capped a day of memorials from New York to Washington to remember the lives of almost 3,000 people who died in the attacks. The man behind the deadly strike, al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, was killed by U.S. forces in May.
Earlier, Obama joined former President George W. Bush at the World Trade Centre in Manhattan for a ceremony attended by the families of victims. Obama was later greeted with cheers and applause when he visited memorials near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon, sites where two of the four hijacked airliners crashed. He laid a wreath at each location. Officials in New York and Washington increased security in preparation for the anniversary.
Obama and first lady Michelle Obama and Bush and his wife Laura Bush walked along the perimeter of the north pool of the 9/11 memorial, stopping for a moment of silence.
They were joined at Ground Zero by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Christopher Christie of New Jersey. The men read letters, poems and religious passages as surviving family members recited the names of the victims in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Also honoured were the six killed in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centre.
They were our neighbours, our friends, our husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, children and parents, Bloomberg said at the ceremony. They were the ones who rushed in to help, 2,983 innocent men, women and children. We have asked their families to come here to speak the names out loud to remind each of us of a person we lost in New York, in Washington and Pennsylvania.
Obama began his 11-minute remarks in Washington with a reading from Psalm 30:5 in the Bible: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” U.S. actions over the past decade, he said, show that “those who do us harm cannot hide from the reach of justice, anywhere in the world.”
The president said the 9/11 attacks created inconveniences and debate about war and civil liberties. Still, he said, the attacks didn’t shake American faith in the ideals of open markets, free speech or freedom of religion. Nor did they stop Americans from working in skyscrapers, attending sports events in stadiums, riding in airplanes or sending their children outside to play.
The nation “pulses with optimism,” Obama said.
“It will be said of us that we kept the faith -- that we took a painful blow and we emerged stronger than before,” he said. “We are not perfect but our democracy is durable.”
The New York ceremony, in the shadow of a new skyscraper that will be the tallest building in the U.S., took place while thousands of police officers worked overtime under a terror alert stemming from what Bloomberg called a “credible but not corroborated” threat.
The observance in New York started with a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., the time when the first jetliner smashed into the complex’s North Tower. Another silent moment occurred 17 minutes later, marking when a second airplane hit the South Tower.
The ceremony, mixed with musical interludes, paused at 9:37 a.m., the time as a decade ago when a jet hit the Pentagon; at 9:59 a.m., the same time as the South Tower had fallen, and at 10:03 a.m., when passengers on United Air Lines Flight 93 had wrested control from hijackers and the plane crashed near Shanksville.
The final moment of silence, at 10:28 a.m., marked the time when the North Tower fell.
In Shankville, Obama laid a wreath in honour of the passengers of Flight 93 in front of a wall made up of marble panels bearing names of Flight 93 victims.
After shaking hands for more than an hour with victims’ families, the president and first lady visited the site where Flight 93 made impact, marked by a large boulder.
At the Pentagon, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta held a commemoration with Vice President Joe Biden and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. Panetta cited the more than 6,200 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
“In the wake of the attacks, a generation of Americans stepped forward to serve in uniform, determined to confront our enemies and respond to them swiftly and justly,” Panetta said. “For 10 years, they have taken on the burden of protecting America, relentlessly pursuing those who would do us harm, who would threaten our homeland. Because of their sacrifices, we are a safer and stronger nation today.”
Members of each of the armed services laid a wreath for each victim at the Pentagon memorial ground.