WASHINGTON – At the sad tolling of bells and a rabbi's hopeful reading, President Bush and a sea of firefighters and police officers silently bowed their heads Monday to mark the moments five years ago when terrorists pierced the nation's defenses.
On the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush stood in front of a door salvaged from a fire truck destroyed on that tragic day, a flag at half staff above him. The observance outside a lower east side firehouse came on a crisp cloudless morning eerily reminiscent of the sunny, workaday morning when hijackers commandeering commercial airliners struck, killing nearly 3,000 people.
The group paused twice, at 8:46 a.m. and at 9:03 a.m., EDT, marking the moments when the two planes slammed into the towers of the World Trade Center. Bagpipes wailed, a firefighter sang "Amazing Grace," a policeman sang "God Bless America" and a choir sang "America the Beautiful." Bush and his wife, Laura, stood ramrod straight and wordless in the bright sunshine.
Rabbi Joseph Patesnick read from a passage from Deuteronomy: "You should choose life by loving God and living his commandments." The simple ceremony concluded with more bagpipes and a salute from Bush.
The president began a grim but high-profile journey through all three scenes of the day's devastation on Sunday with wreath-layings in the vast gash that is all that remains of the World Trade Center's twin towers. Similarly painful memories were renewed at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pa.
Former President Clinton, speaking before a Jewish conference in Washington, recalled how 9/11 transformed the world.
"We had an astonishing moment of unity in America and around the world," he said.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement, "Five years later, we have to continue to move forward with unity, urgency, and in the spirit of international cooperation, because we are not yet fully healed and not yet as safe as we should be."
In Shanksville, the weather matched the mournful mood. Steel gray skies spit cold rain on the field where 9/11 families gathered to remember their dead with the president. Bush and his wife stood without umbrellas and bowed their heads in front of a large wreath honoring the victims.
The Rev. Paul H. Britton, whose brother, Marion Britton, died on Flight 93, offered a prayer for all as well as a personal benediction to Bush, whom he called "our conscience and our heart."
"We gather here connected by sorrow," Britton said.
At a memorial observance near the site where an American Airlines plane slammed into the Pentagon five years ago, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld walked side-by-side to the speaker's platform as somber music played. Rumsfeld's arm was in a sling; he is recovering from shoulder surgery.
"We have no intention of ignoring or appeasing history's latest gang of fanatics trying to murder their way to power," the vice president said.
Rumsfeld appeared to struggle with his emotions as he recalled the day of the attacks. "I remember working through that long, tragic day."
A moment of silence was observed at 9:37 a.m. EDT, the exact time the plane struck, killing 184 people.
At the State Department, two relatives of victims, one born in China and the other in Bangladesh, read off the names of the more than 90 countries that lost nationals. A Navy seaman sounded a bell after each country was announced.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the terrorists struck "not only at our people but at the noblest aspirations of all people."
At the Justice Department, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales led a moment of silence with families of 9/11 victims.
Among those attending were families who attended the penalty trial of al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui as well as former Solicitor General Ted Olson, whose wife, Barbara, was aboard the flight that crashed into the Pentagon.
After spending the night in New York, Bush opened the anniversary day with breakfast at a historic Lower East Side firehouse nicknamed "Fort Pitt," in honor of the many first responders who burst into the towers to save lives but lost their own. Outside, with fire trucks and police vehicles as a backdrop, Bush and several dozen firefighters, city police and Port Authority officers were joining in a moment of silence to mark the times when hijacked planes crashed into the two towers.
Later in the day, he placed a wreath at the spot in Shanksville where Flight 93 was diverted from its murderous intentions into the ground and was appearing at the rebuilt Pentagon wall where another hijacked jetliner pierced the most enduring symbol of American military might.
Bush concludes the observance with a 9 p.m. EDT address to the nation from the White House. With these events, he abandoned the quiet approach he has adopted in recent years to mark the day of America's worst-ever terrorist attack.
Bush's tour was rife with symbols that recalled the devastation of the day, and the high point of his presidency that followed.
In an interview broadcast Monday, he said that on that fateful day, he came harshly to grip with the reality that "we were involved in an ideological struggle akin to the Cold War."
"In the long term, we've got to defeat an ideology of hate with an ideology of hope," Bush said on NBC's "Today" show.
CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden said "we now know the enemy and understand his methods with far greater depth and precision."
On Sunday, Bush and his wife, Laura, set floral wreaths adrift in two small reflecting pools in the pits that are all that remain of the once-soaring twin towers.