America went quiet on Sunday morning as somber crowds gathered to mark six separate moments of silence in memory of the victims and events of 9/11.
President Barack Obama traveled to all three sites of destruction -- from the place where the World Trade Center once stood, to the field in Pennsylvania where rebelling passengers forced one jet down, and finally, to the Pentagon.
"On September 12, 2001, we awoke to a world in which evil was closer at hand, and uncertainty clouded our future. In the decade since, much has changed for Americans," Obama said in a speech Sunday night at the Kennedy Center, across the Potomac Rover from the Pentagon. "We’ve known war and recession; passionate debates and political divides. We can never get back the lives we lost on that day, or the Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice in the wars that followed," Obama added.
"Yet today, it is worth remembering what has not changed. Our character as a nation has not changed."
Church bells tolled and bagpipes played across New York City just before the first moment of silence at 8.46 a.m. Sunday morning, the time when American Airlines flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center 10 years ago. A second moment of silence interrupted the ceremonies, at 9.03 a.m., when United Airlines flight 175 struck the second tower in 2001.
Momentary pauses marked six separate incidents: when the towers were hit, when they fell, when American Airlines flight 77 hit the Pentagon, and when United Airlines flight 93 crashed into the ground near Shanksville, Pa., after passengers, alerted to the plot by cell phone, overwhelmed their hijackers.
New York, Washington, and other major U.S. cities were on alert after officials warned of a “credible” and “specific” terror threat. Police checkpoints were set up in New York, although tourists traveled freely, and several alarms snarled traffic briefly in Washington and closed some gates at Dulles International Airport for a time on Saturday night.
“We will not fear,” Obama said in New York, reading Psalm 46 after the first moment of silence at the memorial.
But the most disruption in Washington on Sunday came from the Nation’s Triathlon, which went off without a hitch in the morning hours. Security was also stepped up for two ball games on Sunday – the Nationals' baseball game against the Houston Astros in Southeast Washington and the Redskins' football game against the New York Giants in Maryland, just outside the District.
At the Nationals game, two red, white and blue logos were painted on the field in foul territory along the base lines, with the date "September 11, 2001" and the words: "We shall not forget." The Nationals also wore blue jerseys with a stars-and-stripes background for the team's 'W' logo.
In Baltimore, fans at the Ravens-Steelers game were given miniature American flags, the band spelled out "U-S-A" and military personnel and first-responders helped move the flag from one sideline to the other.
White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said the federal government is taking the threat of car bombs in New York City or Washington “very seriously” and that counterterror officials are working non-stop to determine “if something is out there.”
“We know that it is specific, related to both Washington and New York, trying to carry out some type of attack here,” Brennan said on Fox News Sunday. Brennan briefed senior counterterrorism officials on Sunday in a regularly scheduled meeting, the White House said, but had nothing specific to report to Obama.
Just hours before the Sunday memorials, Americans were reminded that the struggle is not over. A truck loaded with explosives blew up in eastern Afghanistan, killing two Afghan civilians and wounding 77 NATO troops as well as 25 Afghans on Saturday night outside a U.S. base, The New York Times reported.
At the memorial in New York, police officers and firefighters raised a flag that survived the attacks at the World Trade Center, and family members read out the names of the more than 2,900 victims.
Elijah Portillo, 17, whose father was killed in the attack, told ABC News he had never wanted to attend 9/11 ceremonies before because he thought he would feel angry -- until now. "Time to be a big boy," Portillo said. "Time to not let things hold you back. Time to just step out into the world and see how things are."
Quiet crowds pressed in around the site, the first public viewing of a memorial where waterfalls cascade into deep and, from the perspective of the surrounding plaza, seemingly endless pools. The names of the victims of 9/11 and an earlier 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center are inscribed in waist-high bronze parapets.
The president and first lady Michelle Obama were joined at the morning ceremonies by former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Bloomberg, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and other officials.
Most politicians kept a low profile, leaving the public ceremonies to those who played a direct role in the events. In Tampa, Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman attended a memorial service but said he ditched the idea of riding a motorcycle in order to avoid “politicizing” the event.
President Obama did not speak at Shanksville or at the Pentagon but laid wreeaths and chatted with survivors. Obama was also scheduled to attend the Concert for Hope across the Potomac from the Pentagon, at the Kennedy Center on Sunday evening. The evening ceremonies had been scheduled to be held at the National Cathedral, but were moved last week after a crane collapsed while repairing damage from last month's earthquake.
Vice President Joe Biden spoke to survivors at the Pentagon on Sunday.
“Your physical presence here today gives hope to thousands of Americans who, under different circumstances, are trying to come to grips with the losses that you had that they're going through. Because when they see you here, you let them know that hope can grow from tragedy, and that there can be a second life,” Biden said.
“And one more thing about this 9/11 generation of warriors: Never before in our history has America asked so much, over such a sustained period, of an all-volunteer force. So I can say, without fear of contradiction or being accused of exaggeration, the 9/11 generation ranks among the greatest our nation has ever produced,” Biden added.
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