NEW YORK (AP) - Marking Osama bin Laden's death where the
terrorist inflicted his greatest damage, President Barack Obama
soberly laid a wreath Thursday 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."
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 9/11
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 9/11 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 Thursday 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
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. A senior defense
official said Thursday 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
Such details perhaps mattered little to New Yorkers who suffered
most grievously in the attacks and are now deeply gratified to see
bin Laden's demise.
Ahead of Obama's arrival, Deanne McDonald stood at the northeast
corner of the World Trade Center site waving an American flag in
each hand and shouting "Obama got Osama! Obama got Osama!"
"God bless the Navy SEALS," said McDonald, 38, from Brooklyn.
She took work off on Thursday to wait for the president, saying she
was prouder than ever to be an American.
Obama's New York visit was intended to have a measured tone -
not a bookend to President George W. Bush's visit after the attacks
when Bush took a bullhorn and called out his defiance to the
terrorists. Obama spokesman Jay Carney told reporters traveling
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."
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 Freedom
Tower is more than 60 stories high now. Mammoth fountains and
reflecting pools mark the footprints of the fallen twin towers.
Jim Riches, whose firefighter son was among the nearly 3,000
people killed at the World Trade Center, planned to meet with the
president on Thursday.
"I just want to thank him, hug him and thank him and shake his
hand," Riches said. "Father to father. Thank you for doing this
Obama arrived in New York City Thursday after rejecting calls to
release photos of a slain bin Laden so the world could see some
proof of death. The president said he would not risk giving
propaganda to extremists or gloat by publicizing grotesque photos
of a terrorist leader shot in the head.
To those who keep on doubting, Obama said, "You will not see
bin Laden walking on this earth again."
The president sought to handle the moment without being seen as
overly celebrating bin Laden's death or aiming to boost his own
Al-Qaida terrorists hijacked jets and flew two of them into the
World Trade Center's towers. Both buildings collapsed, trapping
thousands inside and also claiming the lives of firefighters and
others who had rushed to help. A third plane slammed into the
Pentagon. Officials have speculated that a fourth plane had been
heading for the U.S. Capitol or perhaps even the White House when
it crashed after passengers fought back in Pennsylvania.
A few days later, Bush stood amid the rubble and spoke through a
bullhorn. When one worker yelled, "I can't hear you," the
president responded: "I can hear you! The rest of the world hears
you! And the people - and the people who knocked these buildings
down will hear all of us soon!"
All these years later, Obama said this is no time for gloating.
Obama invited Bush to join him Thursday, but the former
Heightened security put in place in response to the killing of
bin Laden remained for Obama's visit. Police officials said there
were no specific threats against the city but also said they
assumed bin Laden's "disciples" might try to avenge his death
with a terror attack.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)