Six silences – and then a single prayer for the thousands who perished

Presidents Bush and Obama mourn the victims of terror attacks on a day of mourning for America

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The Independent US

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 World Trade Centre and the Pentagon and a fourth crashed in Pennsylvania and then when the twin towers collapsed – were powerful reminders of the day terror came to the US mainland, killing 2,977 people.

President Barack Obama stood with his predecessor, George W Bush, at a ceremony at Ground Zero in New York, their first time together there.

Thousands of the victims' friends and family waved pictures or wore T-shirts bearing images of the lost.

The ceremony – and the opening of a memorial that has been 10 years in the making – was the central focus of a day of events across the country.

President Obama travelled 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. Later, at the Pentagon, he placed a wreath at a memorial where each of 184 victims is remembered with a bench and small reflecting pool and greeted visitors while a band played "Amazing Grace".

In New York, under skies much greyer than the blue from which terror appeared 10 years ago, attendees at the Ground Zero ceremony 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 in the Civil War.

"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" – on that day, asked for a blessing on all those lost and left behind, while his successor, Michael Bloomberg, quoted Shakespeare's admonishment: "Let us not measure our sorrow by their worth, for then it shall have no end."

While one man in Shanksville called out to thank President Obama for the killing of Osama bin Laden by US Navy Seals in May, that event appeared to have done nothing to blunt the potency of the 9/11 anniversary or the power of the grief it stirred anew. Indeed, while its moneyed mastermind may be dead, the terror threat from Islamist fundamentalism cast its shadow still. In the days leading up to the ceremonies, the Secret Service 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. The Presidents spoke their words at the site from behind bullet-proof glass. And late in the day, the US military scrambled two F-16 jets to accompany an aircraft flying from Los Angeles to New York after reports of suspicious activity.

The president's only other planned public remarks were scheduled at a memorial concert in Washington last night. In an interview also broadcast yesterday, on NBC television, Mr Obama, a state senator in Illinois in 2001, recalled going home after the attacks and rocking his baby daughter, Sasha. "Our first reaction was, and continues to be, just heartbreak for the families involved. The other thing that we all remember is how America came together," he said.