NEW YORK // Americans marked the 11th anniversary of the September 11 attacks yesterday in familiar but subdued ceremonies that put grieving families ahead of politicians and suggested it is 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, Pennsylvania. to read the names of nearly 3,000 victims killed in the worst terror attack in US history.
But many felt that last year's 10th anniversary was an emotional turning point for public mourning of the attacks. 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 September 11.
Fewer families attended the ceremonies this year, and some cities cancelled their remembrances altogether.
"I feel much more relaxed" this year, said Jane Pollicino, who came to ground zero yesterday morning to mourn her husband, who was killed at the trade centre. "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 September 11 memorial in New York, families clutching balloons, flowers and photographs of their loved ones bowed their heads in silence at 8.46am, the moment that the first hijacked jet crashed into the trade centre'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 collapsed.
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 "September 11, 2001 - 937am". He later recalled the horror of the attacks, saying: "Our country is safer and our people are resilient."
The US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, hailed the "fierce determination" that emerged from the attacks, praising those who volunteered to serve in uniform.
Speaking at the ceremony honouring the 184 people who died when a hijacked airliner slammed into the Pentagon, Mr Panetta said the attacks failed to weaken America and instead inspired a generation to take up arms to defend their country.
"For today we also recall that out of the shock and sadness of September 11 came a new sense of unity and resolve, that this would not happen again," Mr Panetta told families of those who died in the Pentagon attack.
"It inspired a fierce determination to fight back and protect our way of life."
Victims' families in New York began the solemn, familiar ritual of tearfully reading the names of nearly 3,000 killed, with personal messages to their lost loved ones.
"Rick, can you hear your name as the roll is called again? On this sacred ground where your dust settled?" said Richard Blood, whose son, Richard Middleton Blood junior, died in the trade centre's south tower. "If only those who hear your name could know what a loving son and beautiful person you grew to be. I love you, son, and miss you terribly."
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 yesterday morning, as family members laid roses and made paper rubbings of their loved ones' names etched on to the September 11 memorial.
Commuters rushed out of the subway and fewer police barricades were in place than in past years in the lower Manhattan neighbourhood surrounding ground zero. More than 4 million people in the past year have visited the memorial, which became more of a public space than a closed-off construction site.
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 centre, said: "We've gone past that deep, collective public grief."
But Ms Pollicino said it was important that politicians still attended 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 tonnes 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. 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."