A moved president was joined by First Lady Michelle Obama on the White House South Lawn, where he assured the families of those lost that their loved ones would never be forgotten.
The somber early morning ceremony marked the exact time on Sept. 11, 2001 that American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. The Obamas took part in a similar service later at the Pentagon.
“As painful as this day is and always will be, it leaves us with a lesson that no single event can ever destroy who we are, no act of terrorism can ever change what we stand for,” the president said.
He later spoke at the Pentagon, which was hit by another hijacked airliner, killing the 59 passengers and crew and 125 people on the ground.
Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also paid tribute to the military, the resilience of the U.S. public and the nation’s unity in response to the attack.
Eleven years ago, terrorists attacked “our economy, our commerce, our military might and our democracy,” Panetta said at the Pentagon ceremony. In attacking U.S. strengths, the terrorists “unleashed our greatest strength: the spirit and the will of Americans to fight for their country,” Panetta said.
Obama directed part of his remarks to the families of Sept. 11 victims.
“No matter how many years pass,” Obama said, “no matter how many times we come together on this hallowed ground, know this: that you will never be alone. Your loved ones will never be forgotten.”
Later, the president stopped at a section of Arlington National Cemetery reserved for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, before heading to visit wounded members of the armed services at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in nearby Bethesda, Maryland.
Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for president, stopped on the tarmac at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to greet and shake hands with a group of about 20 firefighters and emergency workers.
Vice-President Joseph Biden was joined by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in traveling to Somerset County, Pennsylvania, for ceremonies at the Flight 93 National Memorial to honor the passengers and crew who died when their hijacked United Airlines plane slammed into the ground outside Shanksville.