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Obama arrives in N.Y. on first stop of 9/11 pilgrimage

September 11, 2011 |  4:51 am

President Obama arrived in New York on Sunday morning, his first stop on a pilgrimage to the three sites of the deadliest act of terror committed against the United States. 

On the 10th anniversary of the airplane hijackings that reshaped the country’s attitudes at home and abroad, Obama prepared to lead the nation in a day of commemoration and unity. He arrived at Kennedy International Airport at 7:22 a.m. and walked down the steps of Air Force One accompanied by his wife, Michelle. Hand-in-hand, the president and first lady went to the waiting helicopter for the trip to Manhattan, where they will go to the site of the World Trade Center, where nearly 3,000 people died the morning the planes hit and the towers fell.

PHOTOS: A nation mourns the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks

Later, the Obamas will travel to two other crash sites -- near Shanksville, Pa., and the Pentagon -- before closing out the day with presidential comments at the Concert for Hope at the Kennedy Center in Washington.

Once again, Obama has declared Sept. 11 to be a national day of service and remembrance, as he and the nation honor the dead, those who responded 10 years ago, those who have fought terrorism and those who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"A decade after 9/11, it’s clear for all the world to see—the terrorists who attacked us that September morning are no match for the character of our people, the resilience of our nation, or the endurance of our values," Obama said in his weekly address Saturday.

But the president also urged the country to look ahead, calling for a return to the kind of unity that marked those dark days a decade ago. The nation focused on the tragedy and put politics aside, a sharp difference from recent days during which sharp turmoil and party bickering have become the hallmarks of Washington politics.

“On a day when others tried to divide us, we can regain the sense of common purpose that stirred in our hearts 10 years ago,” Obama wrote in an op-ed published last week in USA Today. “As a nation, we face difficult challenges, and as citizens in a democratic society we engage in vigorous debates about the future. But as we do, let's never forget the lesson we learned anew 10 years ago — that our differences pale beside what unites us and that when we choose to move forward together, as one American family, the United States doesn't just endure, we can emerge from our tests and trials stronger than before.”

Part of that unity was displayed by those attending the New York City ceremonies, including former President George W. Bush. The events include a memorial service at the World Trade Center site. The names of the victims of the attack will be read aloud, punctuated by six moments of silence, as has been the custom in past ceremonies.

On Sept. 11, 2001, 19 terrorists associated with Al Qaeda hijacked four passenger jet planes. Two of the craft were crashed into the World Trade Center, whose iconic towers collapsed within two hours. A third plane flew into the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. The last jet, United Airlines Flight 93, never reached its target in the nation’s capital because it went down in a field near Shanksville, Pa., after passengers tried to regain control of the craft from the hijackers.

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden claimed responsibility. In response, the United States invaded Afghanistan and toppled the ruling group, the Taliban, which had been sheltering Al Qaeda. The terror group has since become more decentralized with a major component in Pakistan, where bin Laden was killed in a U.S. raid in May after a decade on top of the U.S. most-wanted list.

The United States is still winding down its military role in Afghanistan, as well as the later war in Iraq. Both have become political issues that will be revisited in the 2012 presidential election year.

But the 9/11 attacks went to the heart of the nation’s psyche.

According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans’ views of the war on terrorism are in an almost identical position to where they were in October of 2001, though there have been ups and downs over the past 10 years. The latest poll, released last week, showed Americans were roughly evenly split over who they thought was winning the war of terror; 46% said they believed neither side was winning, while 42% said they believed the United States and its allies were ahead.

The majority of Americans, 59%, said they believed that terrorists will always find a way to launch major attacks on the United States, regardless of what the United States may do. That number took on a special poignancy this week, after intelligence officials received specific information about a credible, though unconfirmed, threat to disrupt the 10th anniversary ceremonies.

Domestically, almost three in five of those surveyed said they believe that Americans overall have permanently changed the way they live their lives because of the 9/11 attacks, according to another USA Today/Gallup poll released last week. The same poll found that 28% said they have personally changed their lives.


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--Michael Muskal

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Photo: The north pool at the National Sept. 11 Memorial glows at dawn before a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center. Credit: Mary Altaffer, AP Photo