Obama lays wreath at 9/11 site to give New York 'closure'
Published 06/05/2011 | 05:00
"When we say we will never forget, we mean what we say," said President Barack Obama yesterday as he laid a wreath at Ground Zero.
Mr Obama paid his first post-Osama bin Laden-death visit to the spot where America's Public Enemy No 1 inflicted his greatest damage. He soberly laid a wreath and then closed his eyes and clasped his hands at the outdoor memorial where the Twin Towers once dominated the Manhattan skyline.
He then shook hands with September 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, in turn killing nearly 3,000 people.
The president met privately at the memorial site with about 60 family members from various September 11 organisations.
Earlier, Mr Obama visited the firefighters and police officers whose response to the terrorist attacks turned them into heroes and symbols of national resolve, but also cost them heavy casualties.
"This is a symbolic site of the extraordinary sacrifice that was made on that terrible day," the president said at Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9. The firehouse in New York's theatre district lost 15 firefighters on that fateful day.
Months before the 10th anniversary of the attacks, and days after Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan by US Navy SEALs, Mr Obama's visit was giving New York its own moment of justice. There was heavy security, but New Yorkers still turned out in hundreds to gather just southeast of the site of the attack and line the roads to watch the president's arrival.
The mood at Ground Zero was sombre as the president stood where the towers had been, seeing the faces of the children who lost parents and adults who lost spouses.
Mr 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.
Mr 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 the dark days after the attacks, joined Mr 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.
Earlier Mr Obama told firefighters at the "Pride of Manhattan" firehouse, "I wanted to just come here to thank you.
"This is a symbolic site of the extraordinary sacrifice that was made on that terrible day almost 10 years ago," he said. "It didn't matter who was in charge, we were going to make sure that the perpetrators of that horrible act -- that they received justice."
Talat Hamdani (59), whose New York police cadet son, Salman (23), was killed in the September 11 attacks, met Mr Obama along with other families of victims at the World Trade Centre site and said it was a "very healing" experience.
"I thanked him for being there for me today and. . . that I was very proud of him as our president," said Hamdani, who moved to the United States from Pakistan. "He was there sharing our feelings. . . many people broke down."
She cried as she showed a picture of Salman and told Obama her Pakistani-born son had been a "proud American".
Mr Obama's New York visit was intended to have a measured tone. Presidential spokesman Jay Carney told reporters travelling with the president on Air Force One that the trip was intended in part "to perhaps help New Yorkers and Americans everywhere to achieve a sense of closure with the death of Osama bin Laden".
Mr Obama had invited George W Bush to join him yesterday, but the former president declined.
The bustling construction site that Obama visited bears little resemblance to the pit that remained after the rubble of the towers was removed.
The emerging skyscraper, informally known as the Freedom Tower, is more than 60 stories high now. Mammoth fountains and reflecting pools mark the footprints of the fallen twin towers.