WASHINGTON – President Bush (search) honored 442 firefighters, police officers, and rescuers who died Sept. 11, awarding posthumous Medals of Valor to their families at a White House ceremony Friday.
"A proud America will always stand in the shadow of their service and sacrifice," Bush told a crowd of some 1,200 friends and family, who wore cards with the names of their lost loved ones.
In the crowd, Dena Smagala (search) smiled and videotaped the president's speech as her 3-year-old daughter, Alexa, wearing red, white and blue ribbons in her hair, played barefoot in the grass of the south lawn of the White House.
Smagala was five months pregnant with Alexa when her husband Stanley Smagala, a firefighter in Brooklyn, died responding to the World Trade Center (search).
"This means everything — everything that my husband stood for and worked for, and it will mean more to my daughter when she's old enough to understand, because she never knew him."
The 9/11 Heroes Medal of Valor were created by Congress. Those in attendance Friday included Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, and New York congressmen Peter King, Vito Fossella, and Joseph Crowley.
Crowley had pushed hard for the Sept. 11 medals, citing the loss of his firefighter cousin John Moran.
For the Sept. 11 families, the ceremony was an emotional and inspiring reminder of their loved ones' final moments helping others.
Arlene Howard, mother of Port Authority police officer George Howard, said she was "very honored, because my son saved a lot of lives, and he wasn't even working that day. He was off, and he rushed in from home to help."
When hijacked planes struck the World Trade Center, men and women with badges of all types responded immediately.
The Sept. 11 attacks killed 343 members of the Fire Department of New York City, 50 Port Authority police officers and assistants, 23 New York Police Department officers, three state court officers, and members of the Secret Service, the FBI, and private ambulance workers.