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President pays tribute at the sites of 3 crashes

By Anne E. Kornblut, Globe Staff, 9/12/2002

NEW YORK - Slowly winding his way up the East Coast on an emotional memorial tour yesterday, President Bush visited each of the three Sept. 11 crash sites and honored the victims in a brief address to the nation last night, setting the stage for a major speech at the United Nations today effectively launching another phase in the war on terrorism.

Bush steeled himself for a draining string of ceremonies with an early morning service at St. John's Episcopal Church near the White House, where close advisers to Bush, including National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, read passages from Scripture. For the first of several times throughout the day, Bush grew misty-eyed during the service; at a later memorial at the Pentagon, and again in New York, he blinked back tears.

''What happened to our nation on a September day set in motion the first great struggle of a new century,'' Bush said during the Pentagon event. ''In every turn of this war, we will always remember how it began, and who fell first - the thousands who went to work, boarded a plane, or reported to their posts.''

From the rebuilt Pentagon in Virginia, Bush flew to the open field in Pennsylvania where Flight 93 crashed into the ground, presumably at the direction of its passengers in defiance of the hijackers. Many White House officials believe the act of heroism saved their lives, preventing the plane from continuing south to the nation's capital, and Bush has incorporated the words ''Let's roll,'' uttered by one of the passengers during a cellphone call, into his rallying cry against terrorism.

Bush's third stop was the yawning hole in Lower Manhattan, where, for the first time, hundreds of families of World Trade Center victims stood together at the core of the cleared disaster site. Uncharacteristically eager to remain in public, Bush remained at the scene for nearly two hours, shaking hands with almost every family member as a fierce wind whipped down into the 16-acre hole.

According to a senior administration official, Bush was ''reflective but resolute'' as he marked the first anniversary of the attacks, which altered the course of his presidency and the nation alike.

''At his core, I think he sees a day like today as a reminder of why it's so important for the president of the United States to be resolute, to see through beyond today, to make sure our nation is still protected,'' White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said.

Bush's travels - despite the elevated ''code orange'' security alert that put the nation on guard - offered a marked contrast to one year earlier, when he was rushed aboard Air Force One far out into the Midwest to keep him from danger after the Twin Towers fell.

Yesterday, even Bush's Secret Service agents helped send a different message, lingering far behind the president as he walked down a 460-foot ramp to the ground zero site, some seven stories below ground level, and as he embraced victims' family members, alongside former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Governor George Pataki, and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card.

And unlike last year, no fighter jets were seen escorting Air Force One. Security everywhere was exceptionally tight, however, following reports that terrorist operatives overseas were planning an attack on a US military installation, or even at a site in the continental United States.

White House officials said the code orange warning would remain in place until further notice, although no major security breaches were noted yesterday.

Security is expected to be even stricter at the United Nations this morning, as Bush addresses his foreign counterparts - and, for the first time, the American people - about his plans for pursuing Iraq. According to his advisers, the Sept. 11 ceremonies were an emotionally appropriate prelude to the Iraq speech, which is expected to link the surprise attacks of Sept. 11 with the need for the United States to take swift, and even pre-emptive, action against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Bush even suggested to troops during his Pentagon remarks that he might need their services soon, though he did not specify whether it would be in Iraq or Afghanistan.

''There's a great deal left to do,'' Bush said. ''And the greatest tasks and the greatest dangers will fall to the armed forces of the United States.''

Bush capped the day with a prime-time address to the nation from Ellis Island, speaking against a carefully designed backdrop that included the Statue of Liberty.

''A long year has passed since the enemies attacked our country. We have seen the images so many times, they are seared on our souls, and remembering the horror, reliving the anguish, re-imagining the terror, is hard - and painful,'' Bush said.

''Yet in the events that have challenged us, we've also seen the character that will deliver us,'' Bush continued. ''Our generation has now heard history's call, and we will answer it.''

Sounding an almost introspective note, Bush said the events of last year have prompted Americans to rethink their lives.

''Each of us was reminded that we are here only for a time, and these counted days should be filled with things that last and matter: love for our families, love for our neighbors, and for our country; gratitude for life and to the Giver of life.

'' We resolved a year ago to honor every last person lost,'' he said. ''We owe them remembrance, and we owe them more. We owe them, and their children, and our own, the most enduring monument we can build: A world of liberty and security made possible by the way America leads, and by the way Americans lead our lives.''

Without mentioning Iraq specifically, he offered a preview of today's speech at the United Nations, expected to dwell heavily on Saddam Hussein. ''We will not allow any terrorist or tyrant to threaten civilization with weapons of mass murder. Now and in the future, Americans will live as free people, not in fear, and never at the mercy of any foreign plot or power,'' Bush said.

''Tomorrow is Sept. 12th. A milestone is passed, and our mission goes on,'' he said in concluding. ''Ours is the cause of human dignity: Freedom guided by conscience, and guarded by peace. The ideal of America is the hope of all mankind. That hope drew millions to this harbor. That hope still lights our way. And the light shines in the darkness. And the darkness will not overcome it.''

At the morning prayer service, the Rev. Kathleene Card, the wife of the White House chief of staff, read a passage from Isaiah. ''He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth,'' said Card, who ministers in Virginia, in one of the first of countless prayers offered throughout the day.

Vice President Dick Cheney, meanwhile, remained at an undisclosed, secured location as a result of the escalated threat warning. His schedule included an interview with radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 9/12/2002.
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