SIX times Americans stood together in silence yesterday, at the emotional culmination of weeks of remembrance, reflection and mourning on the 10th anniversary of terror attacks on the nation's financial and political capitals.
The silences -- timed to mark the moments when planes hit the Twin Towers and the Pentagon and a fourth crashed in Pennsylvania and then when the two towers collapsed -- were powerful reminders of the day when terror came to the US mainland, killing 2,977 people.
President Barack Obama stood with his predecessor, George W Bush, at a ceremony at the World Trade Centre site in New York, attended by thousands of victims' friends and family members.
The former president's wife, Laura Bush, wept as she looked out on a sea of people waving pictures or wearing T-shirts of loved ones lost.
The ceremony at Ground Zero, and the opening of a memorial that has been 10 years in the making, was the centrepoint of a day of events across the country.
President Obama criss-crossed the East Coast to attend services at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where United flight 93 was brought down when passengers tackled hijackers thought to be intent on flying it into the White House.
There, in a field in rural Pennsylvania, he helped to place a wreath at the marbled Wall of Names memorialising those who died.
Under skies much greyer than the blue from which terror appeared 10 years ago, attendees at the Ground Zero ceremony in Lower Manhattan heard the words of presidents and poets, prayers and personal stories from the relatives of victims.
Mr Obama read a psalm and Mr Bush read from a letter written by Abraham Lincoln to a woman whose five children died fighting for the Union.
"I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom," he said.
For more than four hours, family members took turns to read the names of the dead and to make moving tributes to their own sons, daughters, parents and partners.
Candy Glazer, whose husband Edmund had called her for a cheerful goodbye before take-off on the plane that ultimately crashed into the Trade Centre's north tower, said: "May your soul finally rest in peace. Your son Nathan and I, as the years go by, grow strong. Goodbye, my dear friend, my teacher and my hero."
Rudy Giuliani, New York's mayor -- and dubbed "the nation's mayor" after that day -- asked for a blessing on all those lost and left behind.
His successor, Michael Bloomberg, quoted Shakespeare's admonishment, "Let us not measure our sorrow by their worth, for then it shall have no end."
The killing of Osama bin Laden by US Navy Seals in May appeared to have done nothing to blunt the potency of the anniversary or the power of the grief it stirred anew. Indeed, it barely seemed to register yesterday.
The moneyed mastermind of the attacks may be dead, but the terror threat from Islamic fundamentalism still cast its shadow.
In the days leading up to the ceremonies, secret services and the FBI chased rumours of a plot to bomb New York or Washington, or maybe both, with car or truck bombs on bridges and tunnels.
The rumours, secondhand from an informant in Pakistan, were not too vague to ignore, and yesterday police officers were still scouring travel records in search of three al-Qa'ida operatives said to have been dispatched to the US, two of whom may or may not have entered the country, and examining whether the theft of three vans overnight in New York might be more than a worrying coincidence.
Warranted or not, an additional layer of security was thrown up across both cities.
In New York, heavily armed police in bomb-proof vehicles were stationed in Union Square in the middle of Manhattan, and the cordon around Ground Zero was fortified with roadblocks and metal scanners for backpacks. The presidents spoke their words at the site from behind bullet-proof glass.
Hundreds of ceremonies were happening yesterday in towns and cities, large and small, as they had been all weekend.
On Saturday, Mr Bush attended a memorial in Shanksville with Vice President Joe Biden, while hundreds of people linked hands around the water's edge in Manhattan in a community-organised ceremony for those who did not lose loved ones in the attack but for whom the attacks remain forever a terrible scar.
In his weekly address to the nation, Mr Obama had said the country was safer "thanks to the tireless efforts of our military personnel and our intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security professionals.
"Today, America is stronger, and al-Qa'ida is on the path to defeat," he added. (© Independent News Service)