Marking tragedy with unity
Millions mourn losses of 2001; Bush urges resolve
A mourner knelt by the reflecting pool of the North Tower yesterday, at the site of the former World Trade Center, at ceremonies on the attacks fifth anniversary. (Henry Ray Abrams/ Associated Press via Bloomberg News)
NEW YORK -- President Bush and millions of ordinary Americans across the country paid tribute yesterday to nearly 3,000 lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001, remembering not just the tragedy of the worst terrorist attacks on US soil but also the strong bonds and sense of national purpose that emerged in their aftermath.
And in a prime-time nationwide address last night, Bush declared that the war on terrorism, including the battle in Iraq, is the best way to defeat terrorists like those responsible for those attacks, and to preserve freedom worldwide.
``This struggle has been called a clash of civilizations. In truth, it is a struggle for civilization," the president said. ``We are fighting to maintain the way of life enjoyed by free nations. And we are fighting for the possibility that good and decent people across the Middle East can raise up societies based on freedom, and tolerance, and personal dignity."
The remembrances ranged from high-profile events, such as Bush's speech and a World Trade Center memorial service, to private moments of reflection.
John Ross sat in the third row from the back of St. Paul's Chapel in lower Manhattan yesterday, taking the pew with scratches that had been made by his holster and pistol. Ross, a Melrose, Mass., police officer, rested there after long days digging through the mangled debris of what had been the World Trade Center twin towers, forging deep bonds with fellow volunteers.
``I love this place," said Ross, now 58 years old, who spent eight straight weekends commuting to ground zero. ``I came here after working all day in the pit, and they gave me food, water, massages, dry clothes, dry socks, and a little bit of peace."
The president and Laura Bush began the solemn day of tributes with breakfast at the Fort Pitt Firehouse in Manhattan, which is less than 2 miles from ground zero.
On Sept. 11, the New York Fire Department lost 343 members, including Matthew Ryan, Fort Pitt's battalion chief and a 28-year department veteran.
At the ground zero site, which the president and his wife visited Sunday night, there was silence at 8:46 a.m. and again at 9:03 a.m. yesterday -- the precise moments when American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, headed from Logan International Airport in Boston to Los Angeles, slammed into the Twin Towers, causing their collapse. Victims' relatives and loved ones read the names of the 2,729 who perished, their amplified voices echoing through a canyon of skyscrapers.
Nearby, New York police officers stood among demonstrators and friends of the victims. At times, some police and fire officers, whose storied departments suffered record casualties in the shocking attacks, argued with the protesters, several of whom assert that the Sept. 11 attacks were a government conspiracy.
Some mourners walked silently to the edge of the where the towers once stood. They sat, trying to comprehend the enormity of what had happened to loved ones.
Among them were Lauren Memoli and Aly Meeker , both 25, both close friends of Candace Williams , a Northeastern University business major who died at age 20 on American Airlines Flight 11.
Memoli's face was streaked with tears; Meeker's eyes were hidden behind sunglasses.
``It was kind of like we had to come [here] for everyone," Memoli said, referring to Williams' circle of friends, including their classmates from Immaculate High School in Danbury, Conn.
``We owe it to her to be here, to remember," Memoli said.
``It's the least we could do," Meeker said.
Steven Desrosiers , a 20-year-old Army private from Brooklyn, made his first visit to Ground Zero yesterday. ``My mother was here when it happened . . . She came home [covered] in ashes. Now, coming here, I can see what we are fighting for. You see why."
Later in the morning, the president and his wife flew to Shanksville, Pa., where they walked in a light rain to join a touching service near the crash site of the United Airlines Flight 93, the lone jetliner that did not strike its intended target on Sept. 11.
The flight crew and its passengers apparently foiled hijackers' plans to ram the plane into the US Capitol building or the White House; Bush has called their actions the first victory in the war against terrorism.
``There is no more sacred ground on this, your earth, than this very place," the Rev. Paul M. Britton , a Lutheran minister and a brother of one of the passengers on the flight, told the gathering.
In Pennsylvania, Bush met with family members and loved ones of the 40 people who died.
The gathering, said White House press secretary Tony Snow, was deeply moving. ``These are people who are still clearly grieving about what happened five years ago," Snow said. Bush ``just gently took his time, listened to what people had to say."
In Washington, where United Airlines Flight 77 rammed into the Pentagon, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld mourned the victims. But Rumsfeld also spoke of the nation's vigorous response, where ``grief soon hardened into resolve."
In his speech last night, Bush said the country's recovery demonstrated its true character.
``On 9/11, . . . we also witnessed something distinctly American: ordinary citizens . . . responding with extraordinary acts of courage," he said.
At St. Paul's Chapel, near Ground Zero in Manhattan, Ross recalled that sense of unity and purpose, and said that he had to be at the site for the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
Like others, Ross wished that New York's leaders would end their bickering and rebuild the site. Early yesterday, Ross said, he spent a few hours walking around ``the pit" with a friend, a New York City police officer.
``We were talking about how we wished the country felt the same way now as it did" in the days after the attack, he said. ``People couldn't do enough for people. But that feeling is kind of gone -- except for here." He traced his fingers over the scratches on the white pew in the chapel .
``I'm happy I came," he said.