Obama visits Ground Zero, meets with 9/11 families

As US flags wave, American president praises first responders, lays wreath; says bin Laden’s death "sent message around world."

US President Barack Obama at Ground Zero in NY 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque )
US President Barack Obama at Ground Zero in NY 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque )
NEW YORK – People lined the sides of downtown streets sixdeep as they waited to catch a glimpse of the motorcade of US President Barack Obama, who visited Ground Zero on Thursday to place a wreath at the 9/11 memorial in tribute to the victims of the 2001 al-Qaida attacks.
In the wake of US forces having killed Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader responsible for the attacks, in Pakistan, the mood in the streets was patriotic, with flags waving and signs declaring pride in Obama and American troops.
In contrast, the mood at the memorial was somber, silent and dignified. Only politicians, representatives of 9/11 families and media were allowed to attend the wreath-laying ceremony.
Obama was accompanied by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the entire congressional delegations from the two states. Former president George W. Bush was invited by Obama to participate in the ceremony, but declined.
Obama was greeted on his arrival at Ground Zero by uniformed police, firefighters and Port Authority officers. He placed a wreath at the foot of the “Survivor Tree,” which was discovered in the rubble of the Twin Towers a month after the attacks, and then took a moment for silent prayer. He also spoke privately with representatives of families at the site, hugging children who had lost their parents in the attacks.
It was known prior to his appearance that the president would not be speaking at the event.
The president’s trip to New York included other stops, however, where he did speak to those who played an integral and heroic role in the tragic events of 9/11. He praised New York’s firefighters during a stop at Engine 54 in midtown, which lost more members on 9/11 than any other firehouse before the Ground Zero tribute.
The fire station lost 15 firefighters on September 11.
“What happened on Sunday [US time], 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 that when we say we will never forget, we mean what we say – that our commitment to making sure that justice is done is something that transcended politics, transcended party,” Obama told the firefighters.
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."
"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,” Obama said.
He also met with police department first responders of 9/11, telling them he was proud of them.
After the Ground Zero ceremony, Obama held a private meeting with approximately 60 family members of some of the 3,000 people killed that day.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama wanted to visit the city after bin Laden’s death “to recognize the terrible loss that New York suffered on 9/11 and to acknowledge the burden that families of the victims and the loved ones of the victims have been carrying with them since 9/11.”
New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez said after the ceremony that he had been deeply touched by the president’s tribute.
“Whenever you’re on Ground Zero, you’re moved – it brings on a pretty solemn rush of memories,” Menendez said.
One bystander deep in the crowd said he stood since early in the morning to get a glimpse of the president.
“I came all the way from Yonkers,” he told a friend. “I lost my cousin that day. I’ll never forget.”