Marking what he called simply the anniversary of "a sad and terrible day," President Bush attended an early-morning prayer service Thursday followed by a moment of silence marking the instant the first terrorist-hijacked plane struck the World Trade Center (search) two years ago.

Memorial ceremonies were held across Washington to honor the loss of 3,016 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. At Arlington National Cemetery (search), Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld presided over a wreath-laying ceremony and, noting the sun-drenched Pentagon behind him, remembered the 184 people killed there.

"In our mind's eye we can see the arsenal of democracy that it represents," Rumsfeld said. "The men and women who died there that day were part of that arsenal, defending democracy as surely as any patriot on the front line."

On Capitol Hill, the House approved legislation to set up a memorial in Washington to honor all victims of terrorist attacks against the United States and to posthumously award the Congressional Gold Medal (search) to emergency responders killed in the Sept. 11 attacks and to those who defied the hijackers on the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania.

Bush and his wife Laura sat in the front pew at St. John's Church (search) across from the White House for a short service in which several top administration officials read from scriptures. It was a beautiful, cloudless morning much like Sept. 11, 2001, the day that an unsuspecting America suffered the cruelest attack ever on its own soil.

About an hour later, Bush and his wife, alongside Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, emerged from the White House to join more than 1,000 members of his staff on the grass of the South Lawn (search). Chefs, maids, groundskeepers and workmen stood with members of the military and senior officials in suits and dresses.

The president bowed his head at 8:46 a.m., EDT -- the moment the first of the hijacked planes struck the World Trade Center -- then the foursome turned without speaking and returned inside. Bush and his wife held hands as they walked.

Leaving the church, Bush described his thoughts. "Today our nation remembers. We remember a sad and terrible day, September the 11th, 2001. We remember lives lost. We remember the heroic deeds. We remember the compassion and the decency of our fellow citizens on that terrible day," he said.

In the afternoon, the president, still accompanied by the first lady, was to travel to nearby Walter Reed Army Medical Center (search) for a private session with about 30 soldiers being treated there for wounds suffered in Iraq. Alongside many of their families, Bush was awarding 11 Purple Hearts (searchduring time at the military hospital.

At the Justice Department, Solicitor General Ted Olson (search), whose wife, Barbara, died in the Pentagon attack, told employees an unrelenting fight against terrorism is the best way to honor the memory of those who perished. Attorney General John Ashcroft said the United States is making "quiet, steady progress in the war against terror."

The president's recognition of the anniversary this year is markedly more subdued than last, when he participated in memorial events at all three crash sites and engaged in tearful embraces with family members. Aides said the new approach was in keeping with the president's view that the day now should be solely about the families.

The White House even scotched for Thursday the normal daily on-camera briefing in observance of Patriot Day (search), the name given to Sept. 11 by presidential proclamation.

Instead of Bush, Cheney represented the administration in New York. However, at the request of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who worried about the security requirements that come with a Cheney appearance, the vice president was attending only an afternoon service honoring fallen Port Authority employees, not the World Trade Center observances.

A ceremony at Shanksville, Pa., where one plane crashed into the ground, was being attended by Interior Secretary Gail Norton.