NEW YORK – A few miles from Ground Zero (search), two widows of the Sept. 11 attacks, a grieving sister, this city's former mayor and its ex-police commissioner invoked memories of the worst attack on U.S. soil as President Bush's convention cast him as a decisive leader in a dangerous world, unafraid to make tough decisions.
They spoke of bodies falling from the World Trade Center (search) towers, frantic calls from a hijacked plane and Bush's pledge a few days after the attack: "They will hear from us."
Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (search) and other speakers said Bush delivered, and they suggested rival John Kerry would not.
"We witnessed strong and decisive leadership on that day and those that followed -- in Mayor Giuliani, Governor [George] Pataki and most importantly, our commander in chief, President Bush," Bernard Kerik told Republican delegates on the first night of Bush's nominating convention. Kerik was New York police commissioner at the time of the attacks.
"It takes courage and inspirational leadership in the White House," Kerik said. "There are two candidates in this race, but only one fills those needs."
Giuliani spoke about "seeing the flames of hell and then realizing that I was actually seeing a man -- a human being -- jumping from the 101st or 102nd floor."
"Spontaneously, I grabbed the arm of then Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik (search) and said to Bernie, 'Thank God, George Bush is our president.' And I say it again tonight, 'Thank God George Bush is our president.'"
The strategy of using Sept. 11 at the convention has prompted Democrats to accuse the Republicans of exploiting the tragedy. It was in the immediate aftermath of the attacks that the president scored his highest approval ratings.
Giuliani told reporters earlier in the day that Republicans would not be "intimidated by the Democrats into not talking about Sept. 11."
Hours later, he was on stage recalling Bush's trip to New York days after the attacks, standing atop a wrecked fire truck and promising action. "For that and then his determined effort to defeat global terrorism, no matter what happens in this election, President George W. Bush already has earned a place in our history as a great American president," the former mayor said.
An emotional high point of the night came when three relatives of Sept. 11 victims came to the stage, bathed in shadows, and spoke of their loved ones.
Deena Burnett, whose husband, Tom, was a passenger on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, recalled getting four calls from him during the hijacking. "Don't worry," he said during the last conversation. "We're going to do something."
Officials believe Burnett and his fellow passengers stormed the cockpit and forced the plane to the ground before it crashed into the White House or the Capitol building. She urged Americans to heed her husband's words and do something, anything, to help their communities.
Debra Burlingame, whose brother Chic was captain of the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, remembered seeing the huge flag draped over the gash in the big building. "My heart fell into a million pieces and it brought back the sweet memory of my brother as a 9-year-old Cub Scout selling American flags door to door," she said.
Said Tara Stackpole: "My husband Timmy was a fireman who ran through the doors of the World Trade Center but did not walk out. ... I am honored to share him with you. Just as I am proud to lend America my oldest son, Kevin, who is headed to Iraq in December with his Navy unit."
The delegates stood and applauded, then hushed as she asked for a moment of silence.
None of the relatives mentioned Bush, but their stories were a poignant rebuttal to other relatives who have criticized the administration's response to terrorism threats before and after the attacks.
Earlier, Iraqi immigrant Zainab Al-Suwaij of the American Islamic Congress told the convention that Iraq is in far better shape now than it was before the U.S.-led invasion that came a year and a half after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Yes, there is still bloodshed and uncertainty, but America, under the strong, compassionate leadership of President Bush, has given Iraqis the most precious gift any nation has ever given another -- the gift of democracy and freedom to determine its own future," Al-Suwaij said in remarks prepared for delivery.
"So as I grieve for the courageous Americans and Iraqis who were killed and injured during Iraq's liberation, I tell you proudly that their noble sacrifice was not in vain."