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US Mourns Victims of 9/11 Terror Attacks

Across the United States, Americans marked the seventh anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks with solemn memorial services and heartfelt tributes. Mona Ghuneim reports from VOA's New York Bureau.

Seven years after the attacks, New Yorkers gathered at "ground zero," the site where the World Trade Center skyscrapers once stood.

As in years past, the ceremony included four moments of silence, twice to mark the time that two hijacked airliners crashed into the twin towers and twice at the time of morning when each building collapsed in an inferno of flames and smoke.

This year, family members and students representing victims who came from scores of nations around the world read aloud the names of more than 2,700 people who died in New York on September 11, 2001.

The children of John Salvatore, who worked at the World Trade Center, spoke about their father when their turn came to read.

Child 1: "My dad died on 9/11, but he is not gone. Just look at each of our faces and you will see him shine through us every day."
Child 2: "We love you, Daddy.

The city's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, the keynote speaker at the memorial ceremony, said Americans come together on this day to bear witness to a "day which began like any other, and ended as none ever has." "We return this morning as New Yorkers, Americans and global citizens remembering the innocent people from 95 nations and territories that lost their lives together that day," he said.

In Washington, President Bush and first lady Laura Bush observed a moment of silence at the White House. The president then attended the dedication of a new September 11 memorial at the Pentagon, where 184 people died when another hijacked plane crashed into the building.

The Pentagon memorial is the first of three major September 11 memorials to be completed. It is made of stone benches, each engraved with a victim's name.

The president says he hopes the memorial will provide some peace and comfort to the victims' friends and families. "People from across our nation will come here to remember friends and loved ones who never had the chance to say goodbye. A memorial can never replace what those of you mourning a loved one have lost."

While the 9/11 structure in Washington is complete, the controversy over the New York memorial continues. Seven years after the attacks, "ground zero" is still a construction site. And many New Yorkers are frustrated by years of delays and disagreements about their monument's progress.

The memorial and a new skyscraper should be complete by 2012, but construction work will alter anniversary ceremonies before then. This year, as they have in the past, the victims' family members walked down a ramp to the bottom of the site, at bedrock about 15 meters below ground, where they left wreaths, flowers and mementos of their loved ones. As construction progresses, this may no longer be possible.

Henry Bustillo, whose brother died on September 11, hopes the ramp will remain. "Hopefully, they will continue on having the ceremony down at the pit, downstairs, because it [won't] feel the same if they have it up here."

An official memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, is also years away from being built. However, services were held there Thursday in the field where another passenger jet went down. Forty-four people died aboard the hijacked plane, which dove at full speed into a field, apparently as the passengers struggled with their captors, trying to regain control of the aircraft.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain took part in the ceremony in Pennsylvania before heading to New York. In Shanksville, McCain paid special tribute to those who died there because they are believed to have disrupted the hijackers' plan to attack another target in Washington. "I've had the great honor and privilege to witness great courage and sacrifice for America's sake, but none greater than the sacrifice of those good people who grasped the gravity of the moment, understood the threat and decided to fight back at the cost of their lives."

McCain and his Democratic rival, Barack Obama, appeared together at "ground zero" late Thursday to pay their respects and speak with mourners, including police and firefighters who honored more than 300 of their comrades who died on September 11.

Laying politics aside for the day, the presidential candidates placed flowers at the World Trade Center site. They will speak Thursday at a forum on public service at Columbia University.

As in years past, two bright blue beams of light will shine all night over New York City from the spot where the fallen towers stood.