|In this photo released by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), U.S. President Barack Obama (C) speaks while Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey stands by during a ceremony to commemorate the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks at the Pentagon outside Washington D.C., capital of the United States, Sept. 11, 2012. (Xinhua/DOD Photo/Teddy Wade)
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 11 (Xinhua) -- Americans on Tuesday gathered for ceremonies to cherish the memories of nearly 3,000 innocent people who were killed by airplanes hijacked by terrorists 11 years ago on this very day.
Two of the jets brought down the Twin Towers of New York City's World Trade Center, another extensively damaged the Pentagon outside Washington and a fourth crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania when passengers aboard that flight revolted against the hijackers.
In New York City, family members of the victims in the 1993 and 2001 World Trade Center terror attacks gathered on Tuesday at the National September 11 Memorial plaza in New York City's lower Manhattan area for a memorial ceremony marking the 11th anniversary of 9/11 attacks.
At Ground Zero where the twin towers once stood, amid music played by bagpipers and drummers and the U.S. national anthem performed by the Young People's Chorus of New York City, more than 1,000 relatives of those killed and other gathered for the annual reading of the list of 2,983 people killed at the three sites. The list excludes the 19 hijackers, who also died.
At 8:45 a.m., the first moment of silence was observed to mark American Airlines Flight 11 that crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center exactly the same time 11 years ago.
The simple, solemn and poignant ceremony was punctuated by six moments of silence -- twice in observance of the moments at which each building was hit, twice in observance of the moments when the two towers fell, once in observance of the time American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon, and once in observance of the time United Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania.
Edwin Morales, a 31-year-old soldier who lost his cousin in the 9/11 attacks, told Xinhua at the ceremony: "The 9/11 attacks are the same as the attack on Pearl Harbor, and people will always remember. That's why I joined army in 2007. I want to serve my country. We will never let this happen again."
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, along with former mayor Rudy Giuliani, shared the stage with the victims' families, but they didn't make any comments. This was the first time that no words from city government officials were heard at the annual 9/11 memorial ceremony.
It took about four hours to read the names of the victims as the day grew warmer, and family members cried and clutched each other throughout the process. Some carried pictures or flowers. One woman wore a shirt carrying the message "We miss you and think about you every day, Mom."
Among the earliest visitors to the memorial site was Kim Williams, who sat alone on the stairs of Zuccotti Park, Liberty Street around 7 o'clock in the morning. "I live in lower Manhattan and I always remember the day of 9/11, when I saw the collapse of the two buildings," said Williams.
At sunset Tuesday, the traditional "Tribute in Light" will return to honor the memory of all those lives lost 11 years ago. The cluster of searchlights, located at West and Morris Streets in Lower Manhattan, will be on throughout the night to create two vertical columns of light, which will fade away at dawn on Wednesday.
In Washington D.C., U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday observed a moment of silence on the south lawn of the White House before heading for the Pentagon where another memorial ceremony was organized, with attendance of service members, along with families of the 184 people who died when the Pentagon was hit by the hijacked American Airlines jetliner 11 years ago.
"This is never an easy day, but it is especially difficult for all of you, the families of nearly 3,000 innocents who lost their lives," said Obama, adding that the nation has always mourned with the families of victims together to remember their loved ones.
Obama also stressed that the country is safer now as "al Qaeda' s leadership has been devastated and Osama bin Laden will never threaten us again."
"Eleven years ago, memorial services were held for Americans of different races and creeds, backgrounds and beliefs. And yet, instead of turning us against each other, tragedy has brought us together. I've always said that our fight is with al Qaeda and its affiliates, not with Islam or any other religion."
At the same function, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta echoed Obama by saying although al-Qaeda remains a threat, the U.S. has made it difficult to plan and conduct another 9/11 attack.
"And we will continue to fight them in Yemen, in Somalia, in North Africa," said Panetta.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday also participated in a wreath-laying at a memorial function held in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where 40 passengers aboard United Flight 93 were killed when that plane crashed as they fought back against their hijackers.