NEW YORK (AP) — Relatives of the Sept. 11 dead gathered Sunday at a transformed ground zero, the centerpiece of a day of mourning and remembrance around the nation and world to mark 10 years since the worst terrorist attack on American soil.
At the site of the World Trade Center, workers busily put the finishing touches on a memorial that was to open later in the morning for the families of the victims. One worker used a cloth to clean the bronze panels etched with their names.
The relatives — some in solemn, black suits, others in fire department T-shirts — crowded into a space in front of a podium where President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush were to deliver readings as part of the New York ceremony.
As the sun rose, an American flag fluttered over six stories of the rising 1 World Trade Center. The sky was clear blue with scattered white clouds and a light breeze, not unlike the Tuesday morning 10 years ago.
The site looked utterly different than it had for any other Sept. 11 anniversary: Along with the names in bronze, there were two manmade waterfalls directly on the footprints of the towers, surrounded by dozens of white oak trees.
Elijah Portillo, 17, whose father was killed in the attack, said he had never wanted to attend the anniversary because he thought he would feel angry. But this time was different, he said.
"Time to be a big boy," Elijah said. "Time to not let things hold you back. Time to just step out into the world and see how things are."
Remembrances around the nation and world were planned to mark a decade of longing for loved ones lost in the attack. Of sending sons, daughters, fathers and mothers off to war in foreign lands. Of redefining what safety means and worrying about another 9/11 — or something even worse.
The anniversary revived memories of a September morning when terrorists crashed hijacked planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and a fourth plane crashed into a field in rural western Pennsylvania. Of heroism and Samaritans and unthinkable fear. And of nearly 3,000 killed at the hands of a global terror network led by Osama bin Laden, himself now dead.
People across America planned to gather to pray at cathedrals in their greatest cities and to lay roses before fire stations in their smallest towns. Around the world, many others will do something similar because so much changed for them on that day, too.
Bells will toll. Americans will see new memorials in lower Manhattan, rural Pennsylvania and elsewhere, symbols of a resolve to remember and rebuild.
But much of the weight of this year's ceremonies lies in what will largely go unspoken. There's the anniversary's role in prompting Americans to consider how the attacks affected them and the larger world and the continuing struggle to understand 9/11's place in the lore of the nation.
"A lot's going on in the background," said Ken Foote, author of "Shadowed Ground: America's Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy," examining the role that veneration of sites of death and disaster plays in modern life. "These anniversaries are particularly critical in figuring out what story to tell, in figuring out what this all means. It forces people to figure out what happened to us."
On Saturday in rural western Pennsylvania, more than 4,000 people began to tell the story again.
At the dedication of the Flight 93 National Memorial near the town of Shanksville, Bush and former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden joined the families of the 40 passengers and crew aboard the jet who fought back against their hijackers.
"The moment America's democracy was under attack our citizens defied their captors by holding a vote," Bush said. Their choice cost them their lives.
The passengers and crew gave "the entire country an incalculable gift: They saved the Capitol from attack," an untold amount of lives and denied al-Qaida the symbolic victory of "smashing the center of American government," Clinton said.
They were "ordinary people given no time at all to decide and they did the right thing," he said.
"And 2,500 years from now, I hope and pray to God that people will still remember this."
The Pennsylvania memorial park is years from completion. But the dedication and a service to mark the 10th anniversary of the attacks are critical milestones, said Sally Ware, one of the volunteer "ambassadors" who has worked as a guide at the site since the disaster.
Ware, whose home was rocked when the jet crashed two miles away, recalled how hundreds of people flocked to the site in the days afterward to leave their own mementos and memorials. She began volunteering after finding one along the roadside — a red rose placed atop a flight attendant's uniform.
"It really bothered me. I thought someone has to take care of this," said Ware, whose daughter is a flight attendant.
Now, a decade later, she said the memorial may do little to ease the grief of the families of those who died in the crash.
But the weekend's ceremonies recall a story with far broader reach. The ceremonies honor those who "fought the first battle against terrorism — and they won," Ware said. "It's something I don't want to miss. It's become a part of my life."
As the anniversary arrived around the world, people paid tribute in formal ceremonies and quiet moments.
In Japan, they gathered Sunday to lay flowers before a glass case containing a small section of trade center steel, and remembered 23 employees of Fuji Bank who never made it out of the towers.
A village in the Philippines offered roses, balloons and prayers for an American victim whose widower built 50 brightly colored homes there, fulfilling his late wife's wish to help the Filipino poor.
In Malaysia, Pathmawathy Navaratnam woke up and, as she has done every morning for 10 years, wished "good morning" to her son, a 23-year-old financial analyst who was killed in New York.
"He is my sunshine. He has lived life to the fullest, but I can't accept that he is not here anymore," said Navaratnam. "I am still living, but I am dead inside."
In a reminder of the war that started in the wake of the attacks, 77 American soldiers were wounded when a Taliban suicide bomber detonated a truck bomb outside the gates of a U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan. Two Afghans were also killed.
On Sunday, the focus turns to ceremonies at the Pentagon, just outside Washington, D.C., and in lower Manhattan for the dedication of the national Sept. 11 memorial. Obama planned to attend events at the sites and was to speak at a Sunday evening service at the Kennedy Center.
The New York ceremony begins at 8:30 a.m., with a moment of silence 16 minutes later — coinciding with the exact time when the first tower of the trade center was struck by a hijacked jet.
And then, one by one, the reading of the names of the 2,977 killed on Sept. 11 — in New York, at the Pentagon and in rural Pennsylvania.
They include the names of 37 of Lt. Patrick Lim's fellow officers from the police department of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Lim, assigned to patrol the trade center with an explosives detection dog, rushed in to the north tower after it was hit to help evacuate workers. He and a few others survived despite still being inside a fifth-floor stairwell when the building fell.
In the years since, Lim said he has wrestled with survivor's guilt. He took shelter in selective memory, visualizing the ground covered with women's shoes amid the destruction. "That's how I got through that because what was attached to the shoes was a lot worse," Lim said.
The 10th anniversary has forced Lim to revisit an experience he's worried too many people have pushed from their minds. But the approach of Sunday's ceremonies has convinced him of the value of revisiting Sept. 11, both for himself and others.
When it happened, talking about the events of that day "wasn't easy for me. This was very difficult. But it became ... a catharsis," he said. "What I want is for people to remember what happened."
And so arrives a Sunday dedicated to remembrance, with hundreds of ceremonies across the country and around the globe — from a memorial Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York to a ceremony featuring nine-stories-tall replicas of the twin towers on a plaza in Paris.
But some of the most powerful ceremonies will likely be the smallest and most personal.
In Newtown, Conn., retired American Stock Exchange floor broker Howard Lasher planned a ceremony Sunday morning under the canopy of six maple trees standing alongside his gravel driveway; their trunks are painted to resemble an American flag.
Lasher commissioned the painting as a tribute to nine colleagues and the son of another who died inside the trade center.
"I wanted something that would reach out to people, that people would not forget," Lasher said.
And in tiny Brown City, Mich. — with no direct connection to the attacks — firefighters plan to lay 343 roses on a 15,000-pound steel beam salvaged from the World Trade Center, in honor of their New York City brethren who perished. It has already become a local shrine, Chief Jim Groat said.
A few days ago, a couple from St. Joseph, Mich. who happened to be driving through, pulled into the fire station lot when they spotted a sign for the memorial. The woman explained to Groat that she was an American Airlines flight attendant on Sept. 11.
Then she turned to face the steel beam from the trade center and cried. "She said she was just honored that somebody still cares," Groat recalled.
The chief observed silently, before offering an invitation.
"Will I see you here on Sept. 11?" he asked.
"I'll be here," she answered.
Associated Press writers Adam Geller in New York and Joe Mandak in Shanksville, Pa., contributed to this report.