NEW YORK — Americans marked the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks Tuesday in familiar but subdued ceremonies that put grieving families ahead of politicians and suggested it's time to move on after a decade of remembrance.
As in past years, thousands gathered at the World Trade Center site in New York, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa., to read the names of nearly 3,000 victims killed in the worst terror attack in U.S. history.
But many felt that last year's 10th anniversary was an emotional turning point. For the first time, elected officials weren't speaking at the ceremony, which often allowed them a solemn turn in the spotlight, but raised questions about the public and private Sept. 11. Fewer families attended the ceremonies this year, and some cities canceled their remembrances altogether.
"I feel much more relaxed" this year, said Jane Pollicino, who came to ground zero Tuesday morning to mourn her husband, who was killed at the trade center. "After the ninth anniversary, that next day, you started building up to the 10th year. This feels a lot different, in that regard. It's another anniversary that we can commemorate in a calmer way, without that 10-year pressure."
As bagpipes played at the year-old Sept. 11 memorial in New York, families clutching balloons, flowers and photos of their loved ones bowed their heads in silence at 8:46 a.m., the moment that the first hijacked jetliner crashed into the trade center's north tower. Bells tolled to mark the moments that planes crashed into the second tower, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, and the moments that each tower fell.
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama observed the moment in a ceremony on the White House's south lawn, and then laid a white floral wreath at the Pentagon, above a concrete slab that said "Sept. 11, 2001 — 937 am." He later recalled the horror of the attacks, declaring, "Our country is safer and our people are resilient."
Victims' families in New York tearfully read the names of the attack victims, often looking up to the sky to talk to their lost loved ones.
Thousands had attended the ceremony in New York in previous years, including last year's milestone 10th anniversary. A crowd of fewer than 200 swelled to about 1,000 by late Tuesday morning, as family members laid roses and made paper rubbings of their loved ones' names etched onto the Sept. 11 memorial. A few hundred attended ceremonies at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.
Families had a mixed reaction to the changing ceremony, which kept politicians away from the microphone in New York for the first time. Charles G. Wolf, whose wife, Katherine, was killed at the trade center, said: "We've gone past that deep, collective public grief."
But Pollicino said it's important that politicians still attend the ceremony.
"There's something missing if they're not here at all," she said. "Now, all of a sudden, it's 'for the families.' This happened to our country — it didn't happen only to me."
And Joe Torres, who put in 16-hour days in ground zero's "pit" cleaning up tons of debris in the days after the attacks said another year has changed nothing for him.
"The 11th year, for me, it's the same as if it happened yesterday," said Torres, whose sister-in-law was killed in the attacks. "It could be 50 years from now, and to me, it'll be just as important as year one, or year five or year ten."
Like 2001, this Sept. 11 was on a Tuesday, for the second time since the attacks. The early fall weather was much like the morning on 2001.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the governors of New York and new Jersey and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani all attended New York's ceremony. Biden spoke to hundreds at the Flight 93 Memorial in Pennsylvania, saying the ceremonies were a reminder that the country hasn't forgotten them.