WASHINGTON - President Bush led Americans in remembrance yesterday to mark the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, recalling scenes of horror from a morning that scarred the nation.
"Time has passed, but the memories do not fade," the president said in a morning radio address to the nation, delivered live from the Oval Office as family members of victims stood by his side.
"We remember the images of fire and the final calls of love and the courage of rescuers who saw death and did not flee," Bush said. "We remember the cruelty of enemies who murdered the innocent and rejoiced in our suffering. We remember the many good lives that ended too soon - which no one had the right to take."
Across the nation, Americans recalled the painful day. At Ground Zero in New York, parents and grandparents of the 2,749 people who perished in the World Trade Center read out their names, pausing four times to recall the moments when each of the two planes hit a tower and when each tower collapsed. New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg began the ceremony, telling parents who lost children that their level of loss is difficult to grasp.
"There are no words to describe this pain," he said.
Last night, two beams meant to symbolize the twin towers were to shine upward from a site near Ground Zero in what has become an anniversary tradition in the city.
At hometown memorials across the New York region, friends and relatives of the dead gathered to remember them. A half-dozen towns in New Jersey planned to unveil monuments to the victims of the attacks. In Chappaqua, N.Y., residents dedicated a Flag of Remembrance for the victims, and in Danbury, Conn., a memorial was unveiled at a city park.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld led a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery alongside relatives of people who died at the Pentagon. They stood around a granite monument bearing the victims' names.
In a western Pennsylvania field, volunteers rang two bells and read the names of passengers and crew on the hijacked plane that crashed there, never reaching its target, whatever it was to be.
In Boston, a small plane flew above the city, pulling an American flag behind it across the sky.
Air Force Col. Jim Ogonowski, whose brother piloted one of the hijacked planes, urged grieving families to remember more than the horrors of the attacks.
"I ask you to remember what followed the attacks," Ogonowski said at a Massachusetts Statehouse ceremony attended by 150 relatives of victims. "Strangers helping strangers, neighbors helping neighbors, acts of good will everywhere. That's the part of September 11th the terrorists don't want to remember."
With the presidential campaign in its final weeks, a political backdrop was inescapable yesterday. To coincide with the anniversary, the White House released a 12-page memo, "Three Years of Progress in the War on Terror," which outlined and defended policies the president has put in place to improve the nation's intelligence-gathering, beef up transportation and border security, and go after threats around the world.
"We were right to go into Iraq," the memo stated. It defends Bush's decision to begin a war to remove Saddam Hussein from power that the president has described as a central front in the global campaign against terrorism. The memo said Hussein was a declared enemy of America who might have passed weapons to militant groups.
"Although we have not found stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction," the memo stated, "in the world after September 11th, that was a risk we could not afford to take."
Bush, joined by his wife, Laura, as well as Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, stood for a moment of silence on the South Lawn at 8:46 a.m., the moment three years ago when the first jetliner slammed into the World Trade Center, turning a crisp, peaceful morning into a day of devastation. A bugler somberly played taps outside the White House as the American flag atop the mansion flew at half-staff.
Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, spent his morning at a Sept. 11 commemoration event in Boston. He met privately with families of Sept. 11 victims and laid white lilies at a memorial for Massachusetts victims. In his own radio address, aired yesterday morning, Kerry said that "our land was changed forever" by the attacks plotted and carried out by al-Qaida, the deadliest act of terrorism ever on American soil.
"While September 11th was the worst day this nation has ever seen, it brought out the best in all of us," Kerry said. "That terrible day has renewed our sense of purpose. And in the years ahead, we will share its lessons with our children and grandchildren. We will tell them that on September 11th, ordinary men and women became heroes at a moment's notice - and so can you."