Bush rallies rescue workers

President speaks at trade center site, National Cathedral

Terrorism Strikes America

Day Of Remembrance

September 15, 2001|By David L. Greene and Gady A. Epstein | David L. Greene and Gady A. Epstein,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NEW YORK - After speaking of New York City's devastation only from afar, President Bush stood yesterday atop the rubble that used to be the World Trade Center and shouted through a bullhorn to try to lift the spirits of weary rescue workers.

Bush's brief appearance at ground zero of Tuesday's terrorist attacks brought cheers from people who have spent days confronting death and staggering devastation.

Hundreds of firefighters and emergency crews - standing at a spot where two hijacked jetliners flew like missiles into the twin towers and destroyed them, killing thousands - erupted into chants of "USA! USA! USA!"

"I can hear you!" the president shouted back. "The rest of the world hears you! And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!"

Bush, too, seemed energized and heartened by the moment, showing a depth of emotion that began to emerge Thursday, when he seemed to choke back tears while speaking at the White House about the attacks.

The president has adopted a more active and aggressive approach to the crisis in the past 48 hours, seeming determined both to comfort Americans and to buoy their hopes for a military retaliation to avenge the terrorist assaults.

"I'm proud to see Americans stand together as strong as they do," said Richard S. Grizzard, a firefighter from Franklin, Va., after the rally. Bush's appearance, Grizzard said, "did a lot of good for everyone."

Bush gave no public address during his two-hour stay in New York, which came three days after the terrorist attacks. White House officials had said the president had wanted to delay his visit until he knew that his presence - and the throngs of aides, members of Congress and security personnel who came along - would not obstruct rescue efforts.

The White House allowed only a handful of reporters and cameras to follow Bush on his tour of the wreckage, which included a view from his helicopter of the altered New York skyline.

His trip stood in contrast to President Bill Clinton's visit to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City after the deadly bombing in 1995. Clinton arrived several days afterward and delivered a memorable address to mourners and Americans watching on television.

Yesterday, on what Bush had declared a national day of prayer and remembrance, the president attended a service in Washington before leaving for New York. To demonstrate the nation's unity, Bush invited four former presidents to the National Cathedral - Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Gerald R. Ford and his father, the elder George Bush - as well as former Vice President Al Gore.

"This conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others," Bush said from the pulpit. "It will end in a way, and at an hour, of our choosing."

The president spoke as the Justice Department released the names of 19 suspected hijackers believed to have taken part in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Bush approved a request from the Defense Department to call up as many as 50,000 reservists for active duty.

Bush will spend the weekend at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains, conferring privately with his national security advisers. Yesterday, he seemed focused on sending a very public message to Americans that he, too, felt the magnitude of the crisis.

"I'm shocked at the size of the devastation," Bush said in Manhattan after leaving the heap of rubble that had once been the World Trade Center.

"It's hard to describe what it's like to see the gnarled steel and broken glass and twisted buildings silhouetted against the smoke. I said that this was the first act of war on America in the 21st century, and I was right, particularly having seen the scene."

Bush spent almost two hours privately consoling about 200 relatives of missing rescue workers.

Earlier, as Air Force One descended into New York, it was accompanied by a trio of fighter jets, a precaution taken to protect the president at a time when security officials say they cannot rule out more terrorist attacks.

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there had been an intense debate within the administration about whether Bush should make the trip to New York.

"There was not a great deal of enthusiasm from any among the security and intelligence community," the official said, adding that the Secret Service had opposed the trip, in part because its New York headquarters had been in the World Trade Center.

Bush took a helicopter ride to view the devastation from above and glimpse the Manhattan skyline, shorn of the great twin towers. He then toured the disaster area up close, along with members of Congress, including New York's two Democratic senators, Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"Everyone is really getting along," Schumer said, noting that Bush was in a Democratic stronghold on a day when few seemed to be thinking about politics.

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