New York: US President Barack Obama opened a sun-splashed day of solemn remembrance Sunday by honouring the 9/11 dead with a visit to ground zero, bowing his head at the cascading pools of the North Memorial Pond created in the footprint of the demolished north tower of the World Trade Center.
Obama, hand in hand with his wife Michelle, walked with former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura to the memorial pool. They ran their hands over the bronze panels bearing the names of those lost in the attacks a decade ago.
All four bowed their head in remembrance, the sound of rushing water giving voice to the sadness of the day.
Then they dispensed hugs and greetings to family members of those killed. At the commemoration ceremony, Obama read a passage from Psalm 46, which speaks of God's refuge and strength, "a very present help in trouble."
Some family members of the Sept 11 victims crowded into the area in front of the podium and held up photos of loved ones lost. One displayed a framed sign that read "I (heart) daddy."
Obama, a state senator from Illinois in 2001, is trying to help lead the nation into a new phase of healing. He has called on Americans this weekend to remember and serve, and to come together toward a joint future.
"Ten years later, I'd say America came through this thing in a way that was consistent with our character," Obama told NBC News. "We've made mistakes. Some things haven't happened as quickly as they needed to. But overall, we took the fight to al Qaeda, we preserved our values, we preserved our character."
Obama was expected to repeat that theme Sunday in remarks at a Kennedy Center memorial concert in the evening, after spending the day visiting all three sites where terrorists crashed planes a decade ago, killing nearly 3,000 people.
From New York, the president planned to stop in Shanksville, Pa., where airline passengers fought back against hijackers and drove a plane into the ground. It was believed the hijackers intended to fly the jet into the White House or the Capitol.
Obama was scheduled to return later to Washington to lay a wreath at the Pentagon and attend the "Concert for Hope" at the Kennedy Center, a ceremony of music and readings intended to offer a sense of renewal.
In the taped interview with NBC, Obama recalled going home after the attacks and rocking his baby daughter, Sasha. "Our first reaction was, and continues to be, just heartbreak for the families involved. The other thing that we all remember is how America came together."
On Saturday, the president stopped at Arlington National Cemetery to visit graves of troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the two long wars he inherited and is beginning to wind down. He also spent time with his family working at a soup kitchen, and called on other Americans also to participate in a day of service.
Throughout the day, the president and his national security team tracked a tip about a possible attack being planned by al Qaeda for New York or Washington to coincide with the anniversary, but US intelligence did not find evidence that terrorists had been sneaked into the country to carry out such a strike.
First Published: Sunday, September 11, 2011, 18:42