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THE DEATH OF OSAMA BIN LADEN | REMEMBRANCE AT GROUND ZERO

‘We will never forget,’ Obama says

The president comforts 9/11survivors in NYC

By Ben Feller
Associated Press / May 6, 2011

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NEW YORK — Solemnly honoring victims of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Obama hugged survivors yesterday, thanked the heroes of one of the nation’s darkest days, and declared that the killing of Osama bin Laden after all these years was an American message to the world: “When we say we will never forget, we mean what we say.’’

On a brilliantly clear day, one of reflection more than celebration, Obama offered New Yorkers a moment of their own. Standing at the gritty construction site at ground zero, where the towers fell and a memorial now rises, the president laid a wreath of red, white, and blue flowers for the nearly 3,000 who died.

For Obama, the day was about the importance of being in New York after the successful raid that found and killed bin Laden, the Al Qaeda leader. The president addressed families who have watched and wondered for nearly a decade whether the government would track down its most infamous enemy.

On this special ground, Obama never mentioned bin Laden’s name. Still, this was where the terrorist inflicted his greatest damage on a similarly sunny day in 2001, when two hijacked airliners were crashed into the World Trade Center.

Nearly 200 other people died when a third airliner hit the Pentagon. Vice President Joe Biden led a ceremony there yesterday, and Donald Rumsfeld, defense secretary in the George W. Bush administration, also attended. Still other victims of 9/11 were killed when a fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania.

Enthusiastic, emotional New Yorkers waited on streets to see the president, but there were few displays like the more raucous exuberance of a few days earlier. There were happy faces, shouts of “USA! USA!’’ and flags waved in the crowd.

But there was heavy security, and most people were cordoned off blocks from where the president could be seen.

Referring to the US raid to take down bin Laden in Pakistan, Obama said of all those who died on 9/11: “It says we keep them in our hearts. We haven’t forgotten.’’

Days after the attacks, President George W. Bush stood here with firefighters and a bullhorn. There was a different feel a decade later as another president paid his respects.

Obama met with firefighters, then police, before having a solemn moment at ground zero and meeting privately with families of those who died.

“This is a symbolic site of the extraordinary sacrifice that was made on that terrible day,’’ the president said at Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9. The firehouse in New York’s theater district lost 15 firefighters on 9/11. The fire crews gave him hearty applause.

Obama said the American pursuit of the terrorist leader “sent a message around the world, but also sent a message here back home that when we say we will never forget, we mean what we say, that our commitment to making sure that justice is done is something that transcended politics, transcended party.’’

Bin Laden was shot dead in a raid on his Pakistan compound early Monday in Pakistan, the result of years of painstaking intelligence work and a covert military mission in which none of the US commandos was killed.

The president closed his eyes and clasped his hands at the memorial where the towers of the World Trade Center once dominated the Manhattan skyline.

Obama spoke with children who lost parents and with adults who lost spouses. The president peppered his brief comments with reminders of the challenges ahead and his call for a new spirit of national unity.

It was not a moment for celebrating the military operation that killed bin Laden. That may come today, when the president visits Fort Campbell, Ky., home to the US Army unit involved in transporting US Navy SEALS in and out of bin Laden’s compound. White House officials said Obama intended to privately thank participants in the raid.

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