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Obama at ground zero: President lays wreath for 9/11 victims

President Obama, on a trip to New York in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. forces, meets with firefighters, police and the families of 9/11 victims.

May 05, 2011|By Tina Susman and Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times
  • President Obama spends a moment in silentmeditation after laying a wreath at the site of the fallen World Trade Center towers in New York City. It was his first visit to ground zero as president.
President Obama spends a moment in silentmeditation after laying a wreath… (Associated Press )

Reporting from New York City and Los Angeles — After meeting with firefighters, police and some of the families who lost relatives in the 9/11 terrorism attacks, President Obama on Thursday placed a wreath at the site of the World Trade Center during a trip designed to comfort New Yorkers and remind the nation that his administration had fulfilled the promise to bring Osama bin Laden, the world's most wanted terrorist, to justice.

Obama, whose approval rating bumped upward after Bin Laden was killed in Sunday's raid in Pakistan, also met with relatives of some of those killed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when commercial planes struck the office towers in Lower Manhattan. It is Obama's first visit to the site since becoming president, though he went there as a candidate.

"What happened on Sunday, because of the courage of our military and the outstanding work of our intelligence, sent a message around the world, but also sent a message here back home that when we say we will never forget, we mean what we say," Obama said during the day.

Head bowed, flanked by uniformed officers, Obama observed a moment of silent meditation at the site before moving to hug some of the relatives of those who died in the attacks. Obama also spoke briefly with top politicians including the governor, senators and the mayor of New York.

Obama's wreath was red roses with some white and purplish-blue flowers mixed in. It was supplied by a shop that was located on the ground floor of 4 World Trade Center on the day of the attack, according to the White House.

The wreath was placed on a spot that sits in the shadow of the famous Survivor Tree within a grove of other trees. The callery pear survived the attacks, was moved off the site but was returned. Buildings in various states of construction surround the plaza. To one side is a deep empty square where the South Tower used to stand. When construction is completed, that square and another, where the North Tower used to be, will be filled with water to create reflecting pools.

After the ceremony, the president met privately with approximately 60 9/11 family members, according to the White House. He then left New York for Washington.

Obama's was a mission in New York was one of commemoration and compassion while calling attention to the death of the man whose Al Qaeda group was responsible for the worst terrorist attacks in the United States. Almost 3,000 people died on that morning that marked the beginning of an era that included heightened security at home and invasions abroad.

The president landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport at 10:39 a.m. EDT and was greeted by a crowd on the tarmac. He traveled by helicopter to Wall Street, where he arrived shortly after 11 a.m. Two fire trucks and two presidential limos were parked there. Former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who was in office when the attacks took place, was there as well.

President Obama first visited the "Pride of Midtown" Firehouse, Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9. The firehouse lost 15 on 9/11 — an entire shift and more than any other New York firehouse. The firefighters killed that day had 28 children. Photographs of the dead line the wall, accompanied by messages from their families.

"This is a symbolic site of the extraordinary sacrifice that was made on that terrible day almost 10 years ago. Obviously, we can't bring back your friends that were lost, and I know that each and every one of you not only grieve for them, but have also over the last 10 years dealt with their family, their children, trying to give them comfort, trying to give them support," Obama said.

He went on to praise those who had carried out the raid on Bin Laden and coupled that with a call for the type of bipartisan unity that proves that America can get things done.

Obama said the raid showed "our commitment to making sure that justice is done, is something that transcended politics, transcended party. It didn't matter which administration was in, it didn't matter who was in charge, we were going to make sure that the perpetrators of that horrible act — that they received justice," Obama said.

The president went on to thank the firefighters "from the bottom of my heart and on behalf of the American people for the sacrifices that you make every single day. And I just want to let you know that you're always going to have a president and an administration who's got your back the way you've got the backs of the people of New York over these last many years," he said.

The president then visited the First Precinct police station in lower Manhattan, which covers the World Trade Center area. Officers from the precinct were the first on the scene after the attacks. Obama again sounded his themes of consolation and completion.

"I am here basically to shake your hand and say how proud I am of all of you," Obama said, then returned to praise for the raid on Bin Laden. "We did what we said we were going to do."

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