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Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, introduced Mr. Obama, profusely thanking him and first lady Michelle for their presence at the service.

“Today, we’ve been reminded, as scripture says, there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend.

Today, we honor the lives of 12 great men who gave their lives in an enduring act of love for their neighbors, families and community.”

Mr. Obama added his appearance at the memorial service onto a long-planned trip to Texas for Thursday’s opening of George W. Bush’s presidential library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. On the flight from Dallas to Waco, the president’s helicopter passed over the site of the massive explosion in West, circling it a few times to view the flattened structures and scorched earth below.

The memorial service attracted nearly 10,000, more than three times West’s population of 2,700, with many of the mourners wearing uniforms of police, firefighters and paramedics and wiping tears from their eyes throughout the program.

Afterward, Mr. Obama and the first lady planned to visit privately with relatives and friends of the victims killed in the explosion. The White House canceled a speech at Planned Parenthood’s gala fundraising dinner Thursday night to lengthen his stay and allow for the one-on-one visits.