At 1:25 pm today, President Barack Obama placed a wreath at ground zero at the site where the World Trade Center once stood in Lower Manhattan. According to the New York Times, he did not make any remarks, as the White House had previously announced. Afterwards, the President met with family members of the victims, firefighters, and other rescue workers who died in the attack on September 11, 2001. As the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, had said on Wednesday morning:
“He wants to meet with them and share with them this important and significant moment, a bittersweet moment.”
The President’s visit to ground zero this afternoon was the first time he has been there while in office. He had visited the site while a presidential candidate.
Prior to visiting ground zero, Obama stopped at the First Precinct Station House in TriBeCa; his remarks to the firefighters can be read here. At the ground zero site, uniformed rescue workers — police officers, firefighters and Port Authority police officers — marched into the memorial plaza and formed an honor guard in two lines. A member of the NYC Fire Department held the wreath, a large circle decorated in red, white and blue flowers. President Obama walked into the plaza with a small group of officials, including Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, and shook hands with those in the honor guard. He then walked with the wreath to the easel underneath the Survivor Tree accompanied by three members of each department, the New York Police Department, the Fire Department of New York and the Port Authority police.
More details of the ceremony can be read via the New York Times CityRoom blog.
The White House had invited former President George Bush to join him at ground zero, but he had declined. A spokesman for Bush said that “he appreciated the invitation but wanted to stick to his policy of staying out of the public spotlight since he left office.” Says the New York Times:
For Mr. Bush, ground zero was the site of one of the iconic moments of his presidency. Days after the World Trade Center towers collapsed, he traveled to the smoldering wreckage to thank the rescue workers, delivering his speech through a firefighter’s bullhorn.
The White House was quick to say it took no offense at Mr. Bush’s decision not to attend, saying that Mr. Bush was invited in the spirit of unity that Mr. Obama said he hoped would prevail in the wake of Bin Laden’s killing, just as it prevailed after the killings perpetrated by Bin Laden nearly a decade ago.
“We’ve made clear that this is a moment of unity for Americans and a moment to recall the unity that existed in this country in the wake of the attacks on 9/11,” Mr. Carney said.
“NYC is about honoring the victims and their families,” as one senior administration official said.
Indeed: E. Betzy Parks of Bayonne lost her brother on 9/11 and said she “wouldn’t miss this event for the world,” according to the Jersey Journal:
“I welcomed it with great anticipation,” Parks said last night about her e-vite from the White House to meet with the president. “I have the opportunity at this historic moment to speak with the president personally and express the Parks family statement.”
Parks’ brother, Robert Emmett Parks Jr., 47, a Cantor Fitzgerald bond trader who lived in Manhattan, was killed in 9/11. He worked on the 105th floor of the World Trade Center.
Parks, who yesterday described herself as “a member of very unfortunate club that we never wanted to join,” said she planned to spend the night formulating with her mother and her sister what she will say to President Obama.
“Under his (Obama’s) stewardship, the U.S. Armed Forces brought an end to that faction of al-Qaida,” she said. “Bin laden was able to experience the fear and terror that every single victim of 9/11 felt when they got hit that day.”
The president deserves “kudos,” she said, adding the “family ambassador” will have a message prepared for the commander-in-chief.
The Star-Ledger describes what ground zero looks like today while noting how important it was that the President’s visit was restrained in tone, with a focus on the almost 3000 who died on 9/11:
Obama will visit a bustling construction site that bears little resemblance to the pit that became Ground Zero in the months after Sept. 11, 2001. The emerging skyscraper informally known as Freedom Tower is more than 60 stories high now. Mammoth fountains and reflecting pools mark the footprints of the fallen twin towers.
Thousands of people climbed street signs and waved flags in celebration after hearing that bin Laden was killed in Pakistan on Monday, which was Sunday night in New York.
Jim Riches, whose firefighter son was among the nearly 3,000 people killed at the World Trade Center, planned to meet with the president on tday [sic].
“I just want to thank him, hug him and thank him and shake his hand,” Riches said. “Father to father. Thank you for doing this for me.”
…..The president must also handle the moment without being seen as overly celebrating bin Laden’s death or aiming to boost his own standing in victory.
“The president is coming here because this is the place where you can really feel what happened that day,” said Joelle Tripoul, a tourist visiting Manhattan from Marseilles, France. “And I think he wants to come to say that bin Laden’s death marks the end of this stage of our human journey after 9/11.”
Below is a video of President Obama laying a wreath at ground zero.
Photo taken near ground zero today by terryballard