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Mourning the ground zero legacy

Bushes join for tributes to lives lost

President Bush and his wife, Laura, (above) laid a wreath yesterday at ground zero, where 2,749 people died in the attack on the World Trade Center in Manhattan.
President Bush and his wife, Laura, (above) laid a wreath yesterday at ground zero, where 2,749 people died in the attack on the World Trade Center in Manhattan. (Ron Sachs/ Pool Via Getty Images)

NEW YORK -- Beginning two days of solemn ceremonies to mark the fifth anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attacks in the nation's history, President Bush yesterday laid two wreaths at ground zero before attending a memorial service in remembrance of the Sept. 11 victims.

The president later pledged ``renewed resolve" to remember the lessons of the attacks.

Bush's visit here for the moment left aside the partisan rancor that long ago supplanted the sense of unity and shared purpose that prevailed in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, in which hijackers crashed four planes, killing about 3,000 people.

With the help of first lady Laura Bush, the president placed a floral wreath in a pool of water that stands in the center of the footprint of what was once the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Then, escorted by a Marine officer, the couple walked to the site of the South Tower, where they placed an identical wreath in an identical pool of water before returning to their car to the strains of bagpipes playing patriotic music.

Accompanied by Governor George E. Pataki, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, and former mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, the Bushes joined survivors of the victims in an interfaith memorial service at St. Paul's Chapel. The 240-year-old Episcopal church served as a base for relief efforts for months after the attacks collapsed the two 110-story structures.

The attacks did more than change the landscape of Lower Manhattan and the lives of the victims and their families. They also profoundly reshaped Bush's presidency, altering the goals of his foreign policy and leaving him determined to confront perceived terrorist threats long before they reach the shores of the United States.

No other terrorist attacks have occurred in the United States on Bush's watch. But his policies have brought other consequences: the war in Iraq that strained relations with European allies and continues to divide the nation, and the use of aggressive tactics to ferret out terrorists, a policy that critics say has eroded civil liberties in the United States and in the perception of the nation.

Meanwhile, terrorist incidents have spiked worldwide, even as so many Americans have returned to their routines.

``Laura and I approach tomorrow with heavy hearts. It's hard not to think about people who lost their lives," Bush told reporters after meeting with relatives of Sept. 11 victims at a visitors' center near the firehouse. The original firehouse, on the rim of the pit, had been destroyed in the attack.

``I vowed that I'm never going to forget the lessons of that day," Bush said. ``There's still an enemy out there that would like to inflict the same kind of damage again. So tomorrow is also a day of renewed resolve."

Yesterday's events were the first of nearly 24 hours of observances in New York; Shanksville, Pa.; and Washington, the three sites where terrorists wrought death and destruction.

Today, the anniversary, the president plans to visit with firefighters and other emergency workers at a firehouse in lower Manhattan; attend a ceremony at the field in Shanksville, where one of the hijacked planes hurtled to the ground; and participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Pentagon.

He also plans to speak to Americans during a prime-time address tonight from the Oval Office.

Across New York yesterday, residents marked the day at other ceremonies large and small. From a service of remembrance at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan to a chant at a Buddhist temple on Staten Island, New Yorkers observed the anniversary with prayer and reflection.

Sitting next to the president in St. Paul's was Jane Vigiano, who lost two sons -- Joe, a police officer, and John, a firefighter.

Next to Laura Bush was Bob Beckwith, the retired firefighter who had handed Bush a bullhorn on the president's first ground zero visit.

Also in the Bush pew was Arlene Howard, the mother of victim George Howard, a New York Port Authority police officer. Bush keeps Howard's badge as a constant reminder of the attacks.

A printed message from the Rev. James H. Cooper, rector of the church, said, ``The message to people who visit St. Paul's is simple: Go back to your communities knowing that a place of love stood next door to ground zero. Try to make the world a better place."

Outside the church, several dozen protesters shouted ``arrest Bush" as the president's motorcade left. They held black balloons that said, ``Troops home."

Some 2,749 died when the twin towers collapsed after they were hit by hijacked airliners. In all, 2,973 died at the three sites, not counting 19 hijackers.

The president's schedule for today included a visit to a firehouse nicknamed ``Fort Pitt" in the Lower East Side, the home of the first responders who rushed into the towers.

He will have breakfast with firefighters, police officers, and Port Authority police and observe a moment of silence.

In Shanksville, Bush will remember the 40 people who died when a plane slammed into the ground. He then will visit the Pentagon, to mark the deaths of 184 there, before returning to the White House for the address.

Even before Bush left Washington, administration officials were vigorously defending the administration's record on improving the national defense over the past five years. ``There has not been another attack on the United States," Vice President Cheney said on NBC's ``Meet the Press." ``And that's not an accident."

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.

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