By Michael Howard Saul, Wall Street Journal
America paused Sunday to remember what was lost and how it has changed forever a decade after four hijacked jetliners felled New York City’s twin towers, split open the Pentagon and bore into the ground in a quiet Pennsylvania meadow.
The anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks provided a moment to take stock of 10 years of war and worry, while at the same time paying tribute to honorable deeds performed not only in the earliest moments of the attack, but in the years since as well.
In New York, thousands of guests visited for the first time a monument that pierces Manhattan’s bedrock where the World Trade Center towers formerly stood. President Barack Obama read from Psalm 46, chosen, a spokesman said, for its message of perseverance. “God is our refuge and strength,” Mr. Obama said. “He breaks the bough and cuts the spear in two.”
Former President George W. Bush read from a letter written by President Abraham Lincoln to a mother who had lost five sons in the Civil War. “I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine,” he said. “I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the republic they died to save.”
The horror of the attack a decade ago resonated anew on Sunday, when military jets were scrambled to escort a passenger aircraft from Los Angeles to New York after the crew reported a passenger disturbance. Officials said it wasn’t a terrorism incident. On Thursday, law-enforcement authorities said they received specific intelligence that al Qaeda militants in Pakistan might be attempting car or truck bombings in New York City and Washington, D.C., a plot aimed to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the attacks.
In the 2001 attacks, 19 terrorists hijacked four jetliners, crashing two of them into the World Trade Center towers and one into the Pentagon. The fourth jet, which was apparently headed for another target in Washington, D.C., instead crashed into a Pennsylvania field after passengers fought back against the hijackers and foiled the plot. Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, then sheltering in Afghanistan, claimed responsibility for the attacks, which killed nearly 3,000.
Shortly after the 2001 attacks, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and then subsequently launched a war in Iraq, two conflicts that continue today. The U.S. has faced sharp criticism for some aspects of the war on terror, including the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the practice of holding enemy combatants at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. The most recent milestone in the war was the killing of bin Laden in a nighttime raid by special forces within Pakistan.
On Sunday, formal events commemorating the 2001 attacks were also conducted at the Pentagon and near Shanksville, Pa., where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field. Many smaller observances were held across the country as well, from a stair climb in Seattle to the dedication of a 9/11 memorial in Sarasota, Fla.
At the Pentagon—where terrorists in 2001 crashed one of the four hijacked jets into a symbol of American military might—Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke of the “dreams shattered” by the attacks, but also spoke of how, in the decade since, the country’s sense of patriotism has been amplified. “They could kill our citizens, they could not kill our citizenship,” he said.
In Shanksville, which Mr. Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama visited later in the day, the president helped lay a wreath to honor the victims of Flight 93. The wreath stood in front of the newly dedicated memorial, an undulating wall of white marble engraved with the names of the passengers and flight crew aboard the plane.
The Obamas then visited the boulder that marks the actual crash site, standing quietly for a few moments in the field of wildflowers. An enthusiastic crowd greeted them with cheers and shouts of “USA, USA” as the first couple made their way to the crowd.
Back in Washington Sunday evening, Mr. Obama paid tribute to the fortitude shown in the aftermath of the attacks. “More than monuments, that will be the legacy of 9/11—a legacy of firefighters who walked into fire and soldiers who signed up to serve, of workers who raised new towers, and citizens who faced down their private fear, and most of all, of children who realized the dreams of their parents,” he said at “A Concert for Hope” at the Kennedy Center.
Outside the U.S., there were also ceremonies commemorating the attacks. Prince Charles and Prime Minister David Cameron joined relatives of British victims at a service next to the U.S. Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London. Nearby, some protesters shouted “USA terrorists.”
Elsewhere, there was a 9/11-related event at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard joined the U.S. ambassador to Australia at a ceremony in Canberra. At an outdoor mass in Ancona, Italy, Pope Benedict XVI urged the world to resist “temptation toward hatred.” In Pakistan, there was a demonstration against the U.S.
In New York, the 10th anniversary marked the official opening of the National September 11 Memorial, twin reflecting pools resting within the footprints of the twin towers. The memorial features bronze panels on which the names of the dead are inscribed.
On the tree-covered memorial plaza, open to the families of the victims for the first time, relatives clutched each other, cried or moved their fingers over the names of dead loved ones. Some used pencils and crayons to make rubbings of the names.
Anthony Calasanti, whose son, Christopher, died in the attacks, choked back tears as he described spotting his son’s name on the memorial. “I did find some comfort from seeing his name,” Mr. Calasanti said.
The Obamas, accompanied by Mr. Bush and his wife, Laura, entered the site together. The four solemnly looked at the memorial’s waterfalls and stepped forward to reach toward the names of the deceased.
The family members—some carrying photos of loved ones, others holding the American flag—gathered shoulder-to-shoulder amid a heavy police presence to commemorate the deadliest foreign strike on U.S. soil. Nearby and still under construction, 1 World Trade Center, formerly known as the Freedom Tower, was draped with a flag.
At the heart of the city’s ceremony was the reading of the names of the victims of the attacks, including those who were killed at the Pentagon and in Shanksville as well as the six who died in a 1993 bombing attack on the World Trade Center.
There were six moments of silence: twice to mark the precise times each plane slammed into the towers, twice to mark when the towers fell, and two marking when the planes crashed in Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Messrs. Obama and Bush were among the eight current or former elected officials to deliver readings at the ceremony, which began at 8:35 a.m. with the sound of bagpipes and drums.
“We can never unsee what happened here,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in remarks to the crowd. However, he said, “We can also see that children who lost their parents have grown into young adults, grandchildren have been born, and good works and public service have taken root to honor those we loved and lost.”
In recent weeks, Mr. Bloomberg has been the target of criticism concerning the program and invitation list at the memorial site. With limited space available there, the mayor didn’t invite first-responders to attend, sparking some complaints. The mayor also rejected calls to allow religious leaders to speak, another point of contention.
Sunday’s ceremony included a performance by the singer Paul Simon, wearing a baseball cap and a suit and tie while singing “Sounds of Silence” and accompanying himself on guitar. In the crowd, some people sang along, wiping away tears.
Andrew Grossman, Erica Orden, Laura Meckler, James R. Hagerty, Julian E. Barnes and Tamer El-Ghobashy contributed to this article.