NEW YORK - To the aching sound of tolling church bells and the emptiness of utter silence, a nation paused Wednesday, paying solemn homage to those who lost their lives on a bright late-summer morning one year ago when the country awoke to a new world of terror.
President Bush, in grim and heartbreaking pilgrimages to Washington's Pentagon, New York's ground zero and a remote field in Pennsylvania, memorialized the 3,000 victims of four airliners brought down by terrorists and vowed that "they did not die in vain."
"We will not allow any terrorist or tyrant to threaten civilization with weapons of mass murder," Bush said in an evening address to the nation from New York's Ellis Island. "Now and in the future, Americans will live as free people, not in fear, and never at the mercy of any foreign plot or power."
After spending long hours fighting back emotions as he comforted victims' families in Pennsylvania and at New York's World Trade Center site, the president also offered consolation to the nation.
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"Tomorrow is September the 12th, a milestone is passed," he said, the Statue of Liberty looming over his shoulder. "Be confident. Our country is strong. And our cause is even larger than our country."
Today, in a speech to the United Nations, Bush will try to shift the day's emotions to another topic, Iraq, and make the case that now is the time for the world community to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Bush hinted at the possibility of war to come, saying the United States "will not allow any terrorist or tyrant to threaten civilization with weapons of mass murder."
But for the first time in months, Iraq was little mentioned Wednesday. It was a time for remembering those whose lives were taken by 19 Arab hijackers bent on toppling the United States.
The Sept. 11 anniversary rituals, carried out as well in thousands of observances across the country, marked the end of one of the most turbulent years in the nation's history. They also took Americans back to a day of sheer terror.
Once again TV networks aired ghastly images of the nation's two landmark skyscrapers falling to the ground after being hit by jumbo jets flying at 500 mph. And once again, at each of the crash sites, there were faces of grief.
In Washington, New York and rural Pennsylvania, families of victims wept and held each other in long embraces. Some held photos of their loved ones. Onlookers waved small American flags and sang "God Bless America" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Occasionally, someone smiled.
"This is going to be a difficult day," said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The observances began at precisely the moments that the tragedies unfolded one year before.
At 8:46 a.m., the time when American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg asked for a moment of silence in the seven-story-deep pit at ground zero. Simultaneously, the president and first lady bowed their heads outside the White House.
At 9:36 a.m., Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld led an audience of 14,000 in tribute to the victims of American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the south face of the now-rebuilt Pentagon, taking 184 lives.
"The terrorists wanted September 11th to be a day when innocents died," said Rumsfeld. "Instead it was a day when heroes were born."
At 10:06 a.m., the final services began on a field near Shanksville, Pa., where United Flight 93 burrowed into the ground when passengers thwarted terrorists' plans to crash the plane into the Capitol or the White House. Homeland security adviser Tom Ridge hailed the 40 passengers and crew as national heroes.
"We do not know how long it will take to defeat the scourge of terrorism," said Ridge. "But we do know ... the passengers and crew of Flight 93 won the first battle."
Spanning all of that time, 196 family members and dignitaries in New York took turns reading all 2,801 of the victims' names, a searing process that took more than two hours. Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who guided the city through its early months of trauma, began the roll call: "Gordon M. Aamoth Jr.," he said. "Edelmiro Abad...."
Three times the reading was interrupted - at 9:03 a.m., when the second airliner struck a year ago; at 9:59 a.m., when the South Tower collapsed; at 10:29 a.m., when the North Tower also fell. Each time, church bells peeled and sirens wailed.
Thousands of family members dropped flowers inside a "Circle of Honor" at the heart of the Trade Center site, now empty of the millions of tons of twisted steel and rubble that fell to the ground after the towers collapsed.
Bush, after speaking at the Pentagon, flew to Pennsylvania, making his first visit to the crash site there, and then to New York, laying memorial wreaths at both places and then spending long moments greeting victims' family members.
The president and first lady signed autographs, offered handshakes and hugs, and even shared laughs with the crowd, which braved winds so high that a commemorative American flag was ripped in half. The first lady dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief.
New York firefighter Charley Fisher said the city's grief remains raw.
"The rest of the country seems to have been able to move on and maybe can't understand why we can't, but we just had our last funeral yesterday," he said.
The day played out amid the highest security precautions since immediately after last year's attacks, as law enforcement authorities moved quickly to initiate a more urgent alert status ordered by the president a day earlier.
Newly armed anti-aircraft missiles stood guard outside the Pentagon and in locations throughout Washington. Vice President Dick Cheney was at an undisclosed location at least until Friday. Snipers took rooftop positions above ground zero.
The day had its share of scares. A freighter was escorted out of New York Harbor after tests detected radiation residue. Two domestic airliners were diverted because of suspicious activity by passengers. A state office building in Columbus, Ohio, was evacuated for about two hours when explosives were detected in a nearby van.
But none of those scares appeared to be serious. And none of the nightmare scenarios outlined Tuesday by federal officials materialized - no car bombings in South Asia, no suicide attacks in the Middle East, no small-scale acts of violence at home.
The memorial observances at the Pentagon, in southwest Pennsylvania and at ground zero were among thousands of community events across the country as Americans paid their respects to the dead and expressed their national solidarity.
Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops lit candles in nighttime vigils. Office workers used lunch breaks to attend noontime church services. About 60 Muslims and non-Muslims gathered at Cincinnati's Islamic Center to pray for religious freedom and acceptance. Other cities reached for patriotic notes. In Des Moines, Iowa, police and fire units paraded from the state capitol to the city's baseball stadium for a ceremony that ended with fireworks.
The world took note as well. Mozart's Requiem was performed in 20 times zones, starting in New Zealand. Three thousand torches, one for each victim, were lit in Norway's capital of Oslo.
The anniversary left its mark in myriad ways. TV networks banned or limited commercials. Political candidates pulled their advertising. Domestic airlines cut more than 10 percent of their flights and reported a sharp drop in passenger traffic, as many Americans decided to play it safe. A few workers got the day off as a paid holiday.
But in other respects, it was a normal work and school day in the United States. School officials in Washington decided against extensive ceremonies, fearing that some students might be upset by the reminder of last year's terror.
Congress was in regular session, engaged in its usual partisan battles over issues such as homeland security and spending measures. But at the end of the day, members went to the Capitol's east steps and reprised the song they sang on the same day a year ago: "God Bless America."