On the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, President Obama led the nation Sunday in a full day of commemoration by honoring the nearly 3,000 victims in services in New York City, Pennsylvania and just outside the nation's capital.
"These past 10 years have shown that America does not give in to fear," Mr. Obama said last night at a commemorative concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington. "These past 10 years have shown America’s resolve to defend its citizens and our way of life. Our character as a nation has not changed."
The president praised the sacrifices of the U.S. armed forces since that day 10 years ago.
"The sacrifices of these men and women, and of our military families, reminds us that the wages of war are great; that while their service to our nation is full of glory, war itself is never glorious," he said.
The president and first lady Michelle Obama began the day by joining former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, at a reflecting pool at the site of the north tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, where Islamist terrorists crashed planes into the twin towers 10 years earlier. They viewed the names of victims etched into a wall and greeted relatives of those who perished.
Mr. Obama read Psalm 46, beginning with "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." An aide said the president chose the Scripture passage because of its message about persevering through difficult challenges and emerging stronger.
The Obamas and Bushes stood behind bulletproof protection at the event in New York as they listened to relatives of the victims reading the names of the dead in alphabetical order. A White House aide said the Obamas were particularly moved by the children of victims, and that the president felt that the design of the ground zero memorial "meets the moment."
In an interview taped earlier, Mr. Obama reflected on the meaning of the anniversary by telling NBC News, "America came through this thing in a way that was consistent with our character.
"We've made mistakes," Mr. Obama said. "Some things haven't happened as quickly as they needed to. But overall, we took the fight to al Qaeda. We preserved our values; we preserved our character."
Mr. Bush, who was commander in chief on the day America was attacked, read a letter from President Lincoln in 1864 to a mother who lost sons in the Civil War.
"I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom," the letter said.
While Mr. Obama stood with his predecessor on Sunday, he made clear in his weekend radio address that he is determined to follow a different path from Mr. Bush's in fighting al Qaeda.
"They wanted to draw us in to endless wars, sapping our strength and confidence as a nation," Mr. Obama said. "But even as we put relentless pressure on al Qaeda, we're ending the war in Iraq and beginning to bring our troops home from Afghanistan. Because after a hard decade of war, it is time for nation building here at home."
Among the audience at ground zero was Chundera Epps, whose brother Christopher was on the 98th floor of the north tower when the plane hit.
"When it comes to family gatherings, that's when the hurt comes in," she said. "The first Thanksgiving all we did was cry. We couldn't even eat."
Some in the crowd wore T-shirts bearing images of those who perished in the attacks or carried signs with their pictures and the words "never forget." Others waved small American flags.
Other dignitaries at ground zero included New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
At Shanksville, Pa., the president and first lady laid a wreath at a new memorial dedicated to the passengers of United Flight 93 who fought back against hijackers and drove the plane into the ground. Mr. and Mrs. Obama visited a boulder that marks the crash site and stood quietly in the field of wildflowers for several minutes, gazing into the distance.
As the Obamas departed, the crowd chanted, "USA."
On Saturday, former President Bill Clinton and Mr. Bush spoke at the memorial dedication in honor of Flight 93's heroes at Shanksville.
Mr. Obama and his wife then returned to Washington to lay a wreath at the Pentagon, where terrorists crashed American Airlines Flight 77, killing 59 people on board and 125 people in the building.
The president concluded the day's events by speaking at a "Concert for Hope" at the Kennedy Center. That ceremony was moved from the National Cathedral after an earthquake damaged the structure and repairs were delayed by a crane accident.
During the ceremonies, the president's national security team was tracking a tip about an al Qaeda threat against Washington or New York on the anniversary of the attacks. Intelligence officials said they had not corroborated the reports, but law enforcement was on high alert.
White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that John O. Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, convened a meeting at 8 a.m. Sunday of senior counterintelligence officials.
"There was no specific piece of new information that was reported out of the meeting," Mr. Earnest said.
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