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Families, dignitaries mourn at World Trade Center in N.Y.

September 11, 2011 |  7:15 am

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Beneath a cloudless sky eerily reminiscent of the fateful day 10 years ago, officials, families of those killed and other mourners gathered on Sunday in a national day of commemoration at the site of the World Trade Center to recall the terror attack in New York City.

In a show of unity that crossed party lines, President Obama and former President George W. Bush led dignitaries at the site. They and their wives toured the North Memorial Pool, the scene of the fallen north tower that collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001.

PHOTOS: A nation mourns the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks

Each president held his spouse’s hand and the quartet made its way around a wall that is etched with the names of the nearly 3,000 who died in the collapse of the towers. 

Then Obama and Bush hugged some family members of those killed and went over to pay respects to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who rose to national prominence for his handling of the crisis. Also attending were present and former governors.

The plaza contained thousands of relatives, crowded in front of the platform and spilling over to the right side. As in the nine previous ceremonies, the centerpiece was the solemn intoning of the names of the dead. Tears in the crowd were seen when the first name was read as the readers’ voices caught on the emotion.

“Although we can never un-see what happened here, we can also see that children who lost their parents have grown into young adults,” said  Bloomberg, catching the theme of remembering the past while looking forward to a future. “Good works have taken root in public service,” he said later.

Sunday’s ceremony served as the official opening of the Memorial Plaza at the World Trade Center site, which will be available to the public on Monday. The memorial sits next to a construction site that includes the 1 World Trade Center, a skyscraper that will be the nation’s tallest when completed.

Relatives of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center were allowed into the memorial, becoming among the first to visit the site. Some family members made   rubbings -- with pencil and paper -- of the names of their  relatives. Many just touched the names, running fingers across the letters.

As in the past, the ceremony was geared to unity and remembrance. Top officials were asked to skip speeches and instead read from favored texts.

President Obama read from Psalm 46 after a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., when the first jetliner crashed into the World Trade Center.

“God is our refuge and strength,” the psalm notes. “He dwells in his city, does marvelous things and says, be still and know that I am God.”

Former President Bush, who reached the height of his popularity in the wake of the attacks, memorialized the 9/11 victims, by reading from Abraham Lincoln’s letter to the mother of five sons who died during the Civil War.

“I pray that our heavenly father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement,” Bush said.

A decade ago on a similarly lovely late summer day, terrorists associated with Al Qaeda seized four jetliners and launched the attack. Two of the planes hit the towers of the World Trade Center, which collapsed hours later, spewing debris and death into the New York air. A third plane hit the Pentagon and the fourth, United Airlines Flight 93, crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pa., after passengers tried to retake the craft. Flight 93 was en route to the Washington, its presumed target the Capitol or perhaps the White House.

Obama will visit the other two sites later Sunday before ending this evening with a speech in Washington at an event called  the Concert for Hope.

ALSO:

Sept. 11, 2001: A nation remembers

Photos: Disturbing images of the terrorist attacks

Families, dignitaries mourn at World Trade Center in New York City

Future 9/11 ceremonies in N.Y. might not include reading of victims' names

-- Geraldine Baum in New York and Michael Muskal

Photo: President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush and wife Laura Bush stand at the North Pool of the 9/11 Memorial in New York City/  Credit: Jefferson Siegel / EPA/ Pool

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