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Around nation, a day to reflect

NEW YORK -- The 200 children stood in the void left by two toppled skyscrapers yesterday, steadily reading down the list of 2,792 people killed here two years ago on a date imprinted on the minds of the nation. Each, in subdued cadences, read about 14 names. But each was brought to a halt by one familiar, lamented name.

"Stephanie McKenna . . . My mother and my hero," said Brian Terzian, 13.

"My daddy, Gerard Rod Coppola . . . your light still shines," said Angela Coppola, 20.

"I love you, Daddy. I miss you a lot," said Christina Marie Aceto, 12. "Richard Anthony Aceto."

It was the victims' families who were at the center of ceremonies yesterday commemorating the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a two-year anniversary quieter than the first, with somber ceremonies in New York, Washington, Boston, and Shanksville, Pa., as well as in Baghdad and Kabul and throughout the world.

Although the nation's pain seemed to have lessened, the reverberations of the attacks remained in evidence, with new reports of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, a sluggish domestic economy, political turmoil in the Mideast, heated debate on foreign policy in the Democratic presidential campaign, and homeland security a continuing priority for the federal government.

Aside from the ceremonies, it was business as usual across the nation.

But it was apparent that moving on has not proved so simple for those who suffered losses in the attacks. John Ogonowski of Dracut piloted American Airlines Flight 11 from Logan, the first hijacked plane to hit the World Trade Center. His brother Jim, an Air Force National Guard officer, told a gathering on Beacon Hill yesterday: "Think not of the empty chair, but the people that filled those chairs."

The day began on the East Coast with clear skies, a light breeze, and low humidity -- a crisp late summer day that recalled the horrific morning two years ago.

"I'm looking at the weather and the skies are clear; it's so much like it was on that Sept. 11," said US Representative Martin T. Meehan, Democrat of Lowell, in the capital.

As he left St. John's Episcopal Church across from the White House, President Bush said: "Today our nation remembers. We remember a sad and terrible day, Sept. the 11th, 2001. We remember lives lost. We remember the heroic deeds. We remember the compassion and the decency of our fellow citizens on that terrible day."

Across the Potomac River, at Arlington National Cemetary, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, gesturing to the now-mended Pentagon behind him, paid tribute to the 184 people killed there.

"In our mind's eye we can see the arsenal of democracy that it represents," Rumsfeld said. "The men and women who died there that day were part of that arsenal, defending democracy as surely as any patriot on the front line."

On Capitol Hill, the House of Representatives passed a bill authorizing construction of a Sept. 11 memorial in Washington and approved a measure that would posthumously award the Congressional Gold Medal to the emergency responders killed in New York and to the Flight 93 passengers who resisted the plane's hijackers before it crashed in a Pennsylvania field. Many officials believe the hijackers had wanted to crash the plane into the Capitol.

Near that site, in Shanksville, church bells rang out just after 10 a.m., and the names of the passengers were read aloud.

"I feel incredibly proud for what my nephew did and those brave souls and what a difference they made," said Candyce Hoglan, whose nephew Mark Bingham was among the passengers who rose up against the hijackers. "They prevented those monsters from continuing on with their plan."

Observances unfolded around the globe.

In Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez led a moment of silence for soldiers gathered at Saddam Hussein's Republican Palace in Baghdad, followed by a bagpipe recitation of "Amazing Grace."

"It's clear to me that this is the next battleground in the global war on terrorism that we have been on now for two years," Sanchez, commander of US forces in Iraq, told reporters. "It's a war that will continue for some time."

In Afghanistan, the other major front in the US war against terrorism, about 300 American, Korean, Thai, Polish, Slovak, and Italian troops stood for a minute's silence at their headquarters near Kabul, saluting not only those lost on Sept. 11 but also those killed in battle and terrorist attacks in the two years since then.

Yet the day's emotional heart was in Lower Manhattan, where 15,000 people gathered at the World Trade Center site. There was a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m. to mark when the first plane struck, at 9:03 a.m. when the second plane hit, and also at 9:59 a.m. and 10:29 a.m., the times the towers collapsed.

"Today, again we are a city that mourns," said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. "We come here to honor those that we lost and to remember this day with sorrow. But we also remember with pride, and from that comes our resolve to go forward. Our faces and hopes turn toward the future."

Like hundreds of other family members who arrived early to pay tribute to loved ones, Raymond Santillan, 25, of Morris Plains, N.J., came carrying a bouquet of yellow flowers for his sister Maria. Time has eased the pain of losing his older sister and his cousin, both of whom worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, but returning to Lower Manhattan brought fresh pain.

"Today it was hard. It really was. You have your ups and downs, but when you come back here you relive it," Santillan said. "It was hard to go back to the bedrock where all these people are placing flowers and photographs. Even seeing all these pictures -- it's still hard for me to believe that so many people died at the same time."

Just outside the ceremony, impromptu memorials were planted along a large railing surrounding the 16-acre hole where the towers once stood. Candles and photographs were neatly placed under a miniature model of the towers. Smiling and waving tourists stood by giant wreaths as friends snapped their photographs. The scene was reminiscent, in a way, of those days after the attacks when memorials sprang up all over Lower Manhattan.

"It's sad. You can't change that," said John Crant, whose sister Denise died on Sept. 11. "But you come here to remember all the good things.

There were also signs that New Yorkers have moved on. Unlike the anniversary last year, when the area was filled with security officers and nearby restaurants were closed, people yesterday continued their routines in the midst of the solemn memorial. Shoppers walked through the nearby farmer's market poking for ripe tomatoes, even while the voices of children reading the names of victims blared in the air. Bargain hunters at a popular discount clothing store shopped as though it were any other day. Julie Atkinson, a flight attendant from Sacramento, had two reasons to attend the ceremony. She came not only to pay tribute to flight attendants who died in the attacks, but also to fulfill a promise. Last Sunday during a flight from New York to California, a minister had asked whether someone could take flowers he had with him to the memorial.

"I took them," she said. "These flowers have been in six cities, but I've tried to keep them alive. In every hotel I've stayed in, I tried to put them in water."

On Sept. 11, 2001, she was far away in California, but this time she wanted to be closer to those who died.

"Really, I just wanted to reconnect," she said. "I just wanted to be another face in the crowd."

Robertson reported from New York, and Mishra reported from Boston. Globe correspondent Brendan McCarthy contributed from Boston. Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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