NEW YORK (AP) — President Obama opened a sun-splashed day of solemn remembrance Sunday by honoring the 9/11 dead with a visit to ground zero, stroking the smooth, bronze panels bearing the names of those lost at the World Trade Center as the rushing waters of a memorial pond there gave voice to the sadness of the day.
Mr. Obama, hand in hand with his wife, first lady Michelle Obama, first walked with former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, to the North Memorial Pool, created in the footprint of the downed tower, where all four silently bowed their heads. The quartet then turned to dispense greetings and hugs to family members of those who died.
This was not a day about presidential speechmaking; rather, Mr. Obama's role was simply to be there — in New York, then Pennsylvania, then at the Pentagon — as the nation paused on the 10th anniversary of the terror attacks to remember the nearly 3,000 lives lost and ponder all that has transpired.
At a ground zero commemoration ceremony, Mr. Obama's only public remarks were a reading from Psalm 46, which speaks of God's refuge and strength.
"Be still, and know that I am God," the president intoned.
It was also a day on which there was no place for partisanship. Mr. Bush gave Mr. Obama a quick nod of solidarity after the president's scripture reading. The presidents and their wives stood behind bulletproof glass during the ceremony, an indication of the tight security surrounding the day's events.
Mr. Obama, who was an Illinois state senator when the hijackers struck in 2001, has called on Americans this weekend to remember and serve and to come together toward a joint future.
"Ten years later, I'd say America came through this thing in a way that was consistent with our character," he told NBC News in a taped interview. "We've made mistakes. 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. Obama's only other planned public remarks Sunday were to come at a memorial concert in Washington in the evening, after spending the day visiting all three sites where terrorists crashed planes a decade ago.
From New York, the president planned to stop in Shanksville, Pa., where airline passengers fought back against hijackers and drove a plane into the ground. It was believed the hijackers intended to fly the jet into the White House or the Capitol.
Mr. Obama was scheduled to return later to Washington to lay a wreath at the Pentagon and attend the "Concert for Hope" at the Kennedy Center, a ceremony of music and readings intended to offer a sense of renewal. The concert was a production of the Washington National Cathedral.
In the interview with NBC, Mr. Obama recalled going home after the attacks and rocking his baby daughter, Sasha. "Our first reaction was, and continues to be, just heartbreak for the families involved. The other thing that we all remember is how America came together."
On Saturday, the president stopped at Arlington National Cemetery to visit graves of troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the two long wars he inherited and is beginning to wind down. He also spent time with his family working at a soup kitchen, and called on other Americans also to participate in a day of service.