May 5, 2011

Obama pays somber respects at Ground Zero

President Barack Obama lays a wreath at the site of the collapsed Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York today.

Ben Feller, The Associated Press

NEW YORK — Marking Osama bin Laden's death where the terrorist inflicted his greatest damage, President Barack Obama soberly laid a wreath today at New York's Ground Zero and declared to the city and the world, "When we say we will never forget, we mean what we say."

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President Barack Obama pauses after laying a wreath at the National Sept. 11 Memorial at Ground Zero in New York today.

AP

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The president closed his eyes and clasped his hands at the outdoor memorial where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once dominated the Manhattan skyline. He shook hands with Sept. 11 family members and others dressed in black at the site where the skyscrapers were brought down by planes commandeered by bin Laden's followers. Nearly 3,000 people were killed.

The president met privately at the memorial site with about 60 family members from various Sept. 11 organizations.

Earlier, the president visited the firefighters and police officers whose response to the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, turned them into heroes and symbols of national resolve, but also cost them heavy casualties on that horrific day.

"This is a symbolic site of the extraordinary sacrifice that was made on that terrible day," the president said today at Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9. The firehouse in New York's theater district lost 15 firefighters on Sept. 11, 2001.

At the First Precinct police station in lower Manhattan, the first on the scene on Sept. 11, Obama alluded to bin Laden's killing and said of those who died in the Sept. 11 attacks, "We keep them in our hearts. We haven't forgotten."

Months before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, and days after bin Laden was killed in Pakistan by U.S. commandos, Obama's visit was giving New York its own moment of justice. There was heavy security, but New Yorkers still turned out by the hundreds to gather just southeast of the World Trade Center site and line the roads to watch the president's motorcades.

There were happy faces and flags waved in the crowd though they were cordoned off blocks from where the president entered the ground zero site.

The president's visits with police and firefighters were upbeat, but overall the day did not have a celebratory feel despite the success of the mission to get bin Laden. The mood at ground zero was somber, even sad, as the president stood where the towers had been, seeing the faces of the children who lost parents and adults who lost spouses. As Obama bowed his head, a jetliner screamed by far overhead on a blue-sky day.

Obama never mentioned bin Laden's name in his brief remarks to firefighters and police.

"What happened on Sunday because of the courage of our military and the outstanding work of our intelligence sent a message around the world but also sent a message here back home," he said at the firehouse.

Obama said he hoped the outcome brought the firefighters "some comfort," thanked them for their daily work and said they had a president who has "got your back."

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who led the city in dark days after the attacks, joined Obama during the day.

At the Pentagon, meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden led a similar wreath-laying ceremony at the site where another hijacked plane crashed into the nation's military headquarters.

Obama's visit to New York came as new details emerged of the daring raid on bin Laden's Pakistan compound early Monday local time. A senior defense official said today that only one of the five people killed in the raid was armed and fired a shot — an account that differs from original administration portrayals of an intense firefight. The White House also now says bin Laden was unarmed when he was shot, after officials initially said the terrorist was holding a gun or even firing.

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