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Bush visits 'Ground Zero', vows victory over terror

President remembers victims of attacks

President Bush greets families at Ground Zero in New York.
President Bush greets families at Ground Zero in New York.  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Americans Wednesday mourned the deaths of more than 3,000 people in last year's terrorist attacks, with 24,000 attending a memorial at the demolished World Trade Center site on Wednesday morning.

Later, in the late afternoon, President Bush ceremonially placed a wreath at the site, placing beside a plaque reading, "Every life taken here, every act of valor performed here the nation holds in honored memory. -- George W. Bush."

The president and first lady Laura Bush then walked slowly along the edge of the crowd, speaking with relatives of victims, firemen and others who had gathered in memory of those lost when the twin towers were destroyed.

Investigators say the White House was probably the target of hijacked American Airlines Flight 93 that crashed in rural Pennsylvania on 9-11. CNN's John King reports (September 10)

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Bush shook hands and paused here and there to share a few words or give a hug spending almost 2 hours at the site.

Afterward, he was remained in New York City to deliver a televised address to the nation from Ellis Island, with the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop. (Full Text)

Suicide hijackers from the al Qaeda terrorist network crashed jetliners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a western Pennsylvania field a year ago Wednesday, triggering that an ongoing war on terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Most of the deaths came when the World Trade Center's 110-story towers collapsed.

Bush went to New York after visiting the relatives of those killed aboard United Air Lines Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania; and appearing at the refurbished Pentagon, where he vowed "to win the war that began here." (Click here for an itinerary of the President's events)

American Airlines Flight 77 struck the U.S. military's headquarters at 9:37 a.m. ET on Sept. 11, 2001, killing 184 people.

"The terrorists chose this target hoping to demoralize this country. They failed," he said.

"Within minutes, brave men and women were rescuing their comrades. Within hours, in this building, the planning began for military response," Bush said. "Within weeks, commands went forth from this place that would clear terrorist camps and caves and liberate a nation. And within a year, this great building has been made whole once again."

His speech at the Pentagon was just one of several reminders that the nation remained at war. The commemorations took place under a government security alert that was raised Tuesday from "yellow" to "orange," signifying a high risk of terrorist attacks.

Anti-aircraft missiles were deployed around Washington in the event of new attacks, and Vice President Dick Cheney was spent the day in an undisclosed secure location. Officials said the main concerns were in Asia and the Middle East, where U.S. military installations were at their highest level of alert.

In New York, city officials estimated 24,000 people attended a memorial ceremony that began at 8:46 a.m. ET, the time American Airlines Flight 11 struck the north tower of the World Trade Center. A second aircraft, United Air Lines Flight 175, hit the south tower about 15 minutes later.

Relatives of the dead and various New York officials -- including former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton and New York Stock Exchange Chairman Richard Grasso -- took two hours and 28 minutes to read the names of the 2,801 people killed at the World Trade Center.

Fewer than half the bodies of those killed at the World Trade Center have been recovered.

The unfurling of an American flag at the Pentagon ceremony Wednesday morning.
The unfurling of an American flag at the Pentagon ceremony Wednesday morning.  

After speaking at the Pentagon, the president and first lady Laura Bush met with relatives of the 20 passengers and crew killed aboard the fourth hijacked plane in western Pennsylvania. Investigators suspect United Flight 93 was headed for a target in Washington, perhaps the White House or the Capitol, before crashing at 10:03 a.m. after the passengers and crew fought the hijackers.

It was that flight that resulted in the popular rallying cry of "Let's Roll!" -- the final known words uttered by Todd Beamer before he and the passengers went on the offensive and overtook the hijackers.

"We do not know how long it will take to defeat the scourge of terrorism or how many Americans will give their lives for the cause. But we do know one thing with absolute certainty: The passengers and crew of Flight 93 won the first battle," said Homeland Security Adviser Tom Ridge, who was Pennsylvania's governor at the time.

Deena Burnett -- whose husband, Tom, was one of the passengers believed to have led the uprising -- said the anniversary is "another day to get through," but said the passing of a year brings some relief.

"I think just to get through today, September 12 has to be a day in which I feel better, knowing that I have completed a year of grief and getting through it without Tom," she told CNN. "It has been very difficult, but at least tomorrow morning when I get up I will know I did survive it."

U.S. allies held their own commemorations as well. In London, Prince Charles and his son, Prince Harry, attended a memorial at St. Paul's Cathedral. In Paris, President Jacques Chirac praised "the courage, the dignity and the patriotism of the American people" and pledged French support against "barbarism and the forces of hatred." And in Rome, Italian firefighters honored their American counterparts killed in rescue attempts after the attacks.

The attacks triggered a U.S.-led war against al Qaeda, led by Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, and Afghanistan's ruling Taliban. The Taliban collapsed in December after weeks of U.S. bombardment and military aid to its opponents.

Bin Laden remains unaccounted for, and U.S. and allied forces remain in Afghanistan to help stabilize the new Afghan government and fight the remnants of al Qaeda and the Taliban.




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