On 11th year after 9-11 attack, sense of moving on

Alicia Watkins remembers a friend who died at the Pentagon during a ceremony marking the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks at the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012. (AP Photo/The Daily News, Todd Maisel, Pool)

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Americans marked the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks with tearful messages to loved ones and moments of silence, but the smaller ceremonies gave a sense of moving on 11 years after nearly 3,000 people died in the worst terror attack in U.S. history.

Hundreds gathered at the World Trade Center site in New York, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, to read the names of the dead.

"Our country is safer, and our people are resilient," President Barack Obama said in a ceremony at the White House. He and first lady Michelle Obama laid a wreath at the Pentagon, above a concrete slab that said "Sept. 11, 2001 — 937 am."

They later visited the graves of recent war dead from Afghanistan and Iraq at Arlington National Cemetery. The U.S. military death toll years ago surpassed the 9-11 victim count.

Some said last year's 10th anniversary was a turning point for public mourning. For the first time, elected officials weren't speaking at the New York ceremony.

"It's human nature, so people move on," said Wanda Ortiz, of New York City, whose husband, Emilio Ortiz, was killed in the trade centre's north tower, leaving behind her and their 5-month-old twin daughters. "My concern now is ... how I keep the memory of my husband alive."

Thousands had attended the ceremony in New York in previous years. This time, the crowd reached about 1,000 by late Tuesday morning. A few hundred attended ceremonies at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.

As bagpipes played at the year-old Sept. 11 memorial in New York, families bowed their heads in silence at 8:46 a.m., the moment that the first hijacked jetliner crashed into the trade centre's north tower, and again to mark the crashes into the second tower, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.

More than 4 million people have visited the memorial in the past year. On Tuesday, much of downtown Manhattan bustled like a regular weekday, except for clusters of police and emergency vehicles on the borders of the site.

Joe Torres, who put in 16-hour days on the site in the days after the attacks, cleaning up tons of debris, said another year has changed nothing for him.

"The 11th year, for me, it's the same as if it happened yesterday. It could be 50 years from now, and to me, it'll be just as important as year one, or year five or year 10," Torres said.

Vice-President Joe Biden attended a memorial service in Pennsylvania, where one of the hijacked airliners crashed in the fields of Shanksville.

"No matter how many anniversaries ... the terror of that moment returns," Biden said.

At sunset, the Manhattan skyline was illuminated by twin towers of light, the annual Tribute in Light installation, which debuted six months after the attacks and has become a Sept. 11 tradition.

Other ceremonies were held across the country, but some cities scaled back — the New York suburb of Glen Rock, New Jersey, where 11 people were killed, did not hold a memorial this year for the first time.

"It was appropriate for this year — not that the losses will ever be forgotten," said Brad Jordan, chairman of a community group that helps victims' families. "But we felt it was right to shift the balance a bit from the observance of loss to a commemoration of how the community came together to heal."

The anniversary led to a brief pause in the presidential campaign as Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney pulled their negative ads and avoided campaign rallies. Romney shook hands with firefighters at Chicago's O'Hare Airport and was flying to Nevada to address the National Guard, whose members deployed after the attacks.

The terror attacks were followed by wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. At least 1,987 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan and 4,475 in Iraq, according to the Pentagon.

Allied military forces marked the anniversary at a short ceremony at NATO's headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan with a tribute to more than 3,000 foreign troops killed in the decade-long war.

"Eleven years on from that day, there should be no doubt that our dedication to this commitment, that commitment that was seared into our souls that day so long ago, remains strong and unshaken," said Marine Gen. John Allen, the top commander of U.S. and coalition troops.

The National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum announced this summer that this year's ceremony would include the words of family members, hoping to remember the dead and honour families "in a way free of politics" in an election year, memorial President Joe Daniels said.

Yasmin Leon, whose sister was killed at the trade centre, said there was a sense of closure this year now that the Sept. 11 memorial — twin reflecting pools surrounded by victims' names — was open to the public.

"This year, we're just here to reflect," she said.

The Sept. 11 museum was initially to open this year, but is on hold for at least another year after a monthslong dispute over financing between the foundation and the government agency that owns the site. Late Monday, New York Mayor Bloomberg and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an agreement that paves the way for finishing the $700 million-plus project "as soon as practicable."

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Associated Press writers Jennifer Peltz, Verena Dobnik and Alex Katz in New York and Amir Shah in Afghanistan contributed to this report.