NEW YORK (AP) — Americans paused again Tuesday to mark the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks with familiar ceremony, but also a sense that it's time to move forward after a decade of remembrance.
As in past years, thousands were expected to gather at the World Trade Center site in New York, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa., to read the names of nearly 3,000 victims killed in the worst terror attack in U.S. history. President Barack Obama was to attend the Pentagon memorial, and Vice President Joe Biden was to speak in Pennsylvania.
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 Sept. 11.
"I feel much more relaxed" this year, said Jane Pollicino, who came to ground zero Tuesday morning to remember her husband, who was killed at the trade center. "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 Sept. 11 memorial in New York, family clutching balloons, flowers and photos of their loved ones bowed their heads in silence at 8:46 a.m., the moment that the first hijacked jetliner crashed into the trade center's north tower. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama observed the moment in a ceremony on the White House's south lawn. 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, Jr., died in the trade center'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. Fewer than 500 family members had gathered by Tuesday morning, reading their loved ones' names on the Sept. 11 memorial, built over the twin towers' footprints.
Commuters rushed out of the subway and fewer police barricades were in place than in past years in the lower Manhattan neighborhood surrounding ground zero.
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 center, said: "We've gone past that deep, collective public grief" and said it was appropriate that politicians no longer speak.
But Pollicino said it's important that politicians still attend 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 the "pit" in the days after the attacks, cleaning up tons of debris, 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."
Political leaders still are welcome to attend the ground zero ceremony, and they are expected at the other commemorations, as well.
The Obamas plan to attend the Pentagon ceremony and visit wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The U.S. terror attacks were followed by wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the U.S. military death toll years ago surpassed the 9/11 victim count. At least 1,987 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan and 4,475 in Iraq, according to the Pentagon.
Biden and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar are expected to speak at the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, at the site where the hijacked United Airlines plane went down.
Officeholders from the mayor to presidents have been heard at the New York ceremony, reading texts ranging from parts of the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address to poems by John Donne and Langston Hughes.
For former New York Gov. George Pataki, this year's change ends a 10-year experience that was deeply personal, even as it reflected his political role. He was governor at the time of the attacks.
"As the names are read out, I just listen and have great memories of people who I knew very well who were on that list of names. It was very emotional." But the former governor supports the decision not to have government figures speak.
"It's time to take the next step, which is simply to continue to pay tribute," Pataki said.
The National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum — led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg as its board chairman — announced in July that this year's ceremony would include the words of family members, hoping to remember the dead and honor families "in a way free of politics" in an election year, memorial President Joe Daniels said.
But others said keeping politicians off the rostrum smacked of ... politics. And several said they were unwilling to let go.
"Coming here, it's like ripping off a Band-Aid," said Yasmin Leon, whose sister was killed at the trade center. "You rip it off and the wound is opened again. But you keep coming back anyway."
Leon said there was a sense of closure this year because last year, the Sept. 11 memorial — twin reflecting pools surrounded by victims' names — opened to the public. "This year, we're just here to reflect," she said.
The Sept. 11 museum was initially to open this year, but is on hold for at least another year after a monthslong dispute over financing between the foundation and the government agency that owns the site. Late Monday, Bloomberg and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an agreement that paves the way for finishing the $700 million-plus project "as soon as practicable."
Before the deal, Cuomo, a Democrat, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, had called on federal officials to give the memorial a financial and technical hand. Some victims' relatives saw the no-politicians anniversary ceremony as retaliation.
"Banning the governors of New York and New Jersey from speaking is the ultimate political decision," said one relatives' group, led by retired Deputy Fire Chief Jim Riches. His firefighter son and namesake was killed responding to the burning World Trade Center.
Associated Press writers Verena Dobnik and Alex Katz contributed to this report.
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Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.