Just days after the raid on Osama bin Laden's Pakistani compound, President Obama returned to Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan, where he participated in a silent wreath-laying ceremony and told a fire station crushed by losses on 9/11 that "when we say we will never forget, we mean what we say."
The president made his remarks while visiting the "Pride of Midtown" firehouse (Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9), which lost 15 men on 9/11.
Visiting the station, Obama told the firefighters: "You're always going to have a president and an administration who's got your back."
He later visited the First Precinct police station in Lower Manhattan, where he brought home bin Laden's death for the officers. "What we did on Sunday is directly connected to what you do every day," he said.
Obama's visit to New York on Thursday is a bookend to President George W. Bush's famous bullhorn-at-Ground-Zero vow that the people who knocked down the World Trade Center buildings would hear America.
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As high-profile as his visit is, Obama kept a light touch. Before he laid a wreath at the 9/11 memorial, he walked down a line of police officers to shake their hands, and then laid the wreath on its stand.
He stood, hands clasped in front of his body and eyes closed, for a moment, before walking over to hug and speak to the family members of 9/11 victims standing off to the side. He first approached the family of Payton Hall, a 14-year-old girl who lost her father in the attacks. She wrote to Obama recently to tell him how she had handled the loss, and he invited her to the ceremony. Hall, her mother, and a friend who had also lost a father in the attacks smiled as they spoke with him.
Later, the president will meet with more families of 9/11 victims and first responders, but it will be behind closed doors, and then he returns promptly to Washington--no squidging in a campaign fund-raiser on nearby Wall Street.
"The president believes it's appropriate and fitting to travel to New York this week in the wake of the successful mission to bring Osama bin Laden to justice in order to recognize the terrible loss that New York suffered on 9/11, and to acknowledge the burden that families of the victims and the loved ones of the victims have been carrying with them since 9/11, almost 10 years," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters as they traveled to New York on Thursday morning.
Back inside the Beltway, Vice President Joe Biden attended a similar memorial service at the Pentagon, the site of another plane crash on 9/11.
Obama's last trip to Ground Zero came during the 2008 election, when he and his opponent, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., enjoyed a modest, five-minute armistice during the bitter presidential campaign to lay a wreath at the site together.
But this visit comes after hundreds of New Yorkers flocked to Ground Zero on Sunday night to celebrate the announcement that bin Laden had been found and killed--an accomplishment for which many Americans are giving the president credit. People lined the streets of the city to greet him. New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani met the president when his Marine One helicopter landed in Lower Manhattan, along with Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Chris Christie of New Jersey, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Port Authority Chairman David Samson. Many members of the New York and New Jersey congressional delegations were in attendance, as well.
Despite an invitation by the White House, former President George W. Bush did not join Obama at Ground Zero, citing a desire to keep a low public profile. He will attend the formal 10th anniversary on September 11.
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