It was also a year when politicians largely took a back seat to grieving families; no elected officials spoke at all at New York's 3½ -hour ceremony. President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney pulled negative campaign ads and avoided rallies, with the president laying a wreath at the Pentagon ceremony and visiting wounded soldiers at a Maryland hospital. And beyond the victims of the 2001 attacks, attention was paid to the wars that followed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In Middletown, N.J., a bedroom community that lost 37 residents in the attacks, town officials laid a wreath at the entrance to the park in a small, silent ceremony. Last year, 3,700 people attended a remembrance with speeches, music and names read.
"This year," said Deputy Mayor Stephen Massell, "I think less is more."
Some worried that moving on would mean Sept. 11 will fade from memory.
"It's been 11 years already," said Michael Reneo, whose sister-in-law, Daniela Notaro, was killed at the trade center. "And unfortunately for some, the reality of this day seems to be fading as the years go by. ... I hope we never lose focus on what really happened here."
Thousands had attended the ceremony in New York in previous years, including last year's milestone 10th anniversary. In New York, a crowd of fewer than 200 swelled to about 1,000 by late Tuesday morning, as family members laid roses and made paper rubbings of their loved ones' names etched onto the Sept. 11 memorial. A few hundred attended ceremonies at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pa., fewer than in years past.
As bagpipes played at the year-old Sept. 11 memorial in New York, families holding 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. Bells tolled to mark the moments that planes crashed into the second tower, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, and the moments that each tower collapsed.
President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama laid a white floral wreath at the Pentagon, above a concrete slab that said "Sept. 11, 2001 937 am." Obama later recalled the horror of the attacks, declaring, "Our country is safer and our people are resilient."
Vice President Joe Biden remembered the 40 victims of the plane that crashed in a field south of Pittsburgh, saying he understood 11 years haven't diminished memories.
"Today is just as monumental a day for all of you, for each of your families, as any Sept. 11 has ever been," he said.
Wearing white ribbons, many wearing T-shirts with their loved ones' pictures, victims' family in New York read loved ones' names, and looked up to the sky to talk to their family even those they hadn't met.
Juan Torres wasn't old enough to remember his uncle, Luis, "but after all the stories I heard, I knew he was a good man. Although he threw himself from the building, I know God was waiting for him below and caught him in his arms."
Like 2001, this Sept. 11 was on a Tuesday, for the second time since the attacks. The cloudless blue sky and brisk, early fall weather recalled the morning of 2001.
Other ceremonies were held across the country from New York's Long Island, where hundreds wrote messages to their loved ones on a memorial, to Boston, where more than 200 people with ties to Massachusetts were remembered. Two of the hijacked airliners took off from Boston's Logan Airport.
But other cities changed the way they remembered. The New York City suburb of Glen Rock, N.J., where 11 victims lived, did not hold an organized memorial for the first time in a decade. Past commemorations often ran for several hours, with family laying roses in front of a granite memorial built with remnants of the twin towers' steel.
"It was appropriate for this year not that the losses will ever be forgotten," said Brad Jordan, chairman of a Glen Rock community group that helps victims' families. "But we felt it was right to shift the balance a bit from the observance of loss to a commemoration of how the community came together to heal."
Several people attending the ceremonies were related to soldiers who fought in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that followed 9/11, where the U.S. military death toll years ago surpassed the 9/11 victim count. Elna Tullock, whose son, Hassan Carter, is completing his second tour in Afghanistan and served another two in Iraq, admired the rising One World Trade Center tower.
"This is all connected," she said, pointing to a picture of her son and the tower before her.
Allied military forces marked the anniversary at a short ceremony at NATO's headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan with a tribute to more than 3,000 foreign troops killed in the decade-long war. "Eleven years on from that day there should be no doubt that our dedication to this commitment, that commitment that was seared into our souls that day so long ago, remains strong and unshaken," said Marine Gen. John Allen, the top commander of U.S. and coalition troops.
At least 1,987 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan and 4,475 in Iraq, according to the Pentagon.
In Norfolk, Va., about 1,100 sailors and Marines aboard the USS New York, a warship forged with 7.5 tons of steel salvaged from the trade center, listened to "Proud to be an American" and observed moments of silence for the moments the airliners hit their targets and read the death toll out loud.
"We often tell people, it's not just about that one day," said Capt. John Kreitz, the USS New York's commanding officer. "The spirit here is really about what happened the next day and the next day and every day since."
Romney: Sept. 11 time to renew resolve
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney says Sept. 11 is a time to renew the resolve of protecting Americans against "evil" attacks.
Romney spoke in Reno, Nev., to a gathering of the National Guard on a day when both presidential campaigns halted, however briefly, their overt politics in deference to one of the most harrowing and unifying days in U.S. history.
Romney said the events of that day are seared in the memory of Americans. He said the families of those killed on Sept. 11, 2001, are remembered and held up in prayer.
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama laid a white floral wreath at the Pentagon, above a concrete slab that said "Sept. 11, 2001 937 am." Obama later recalled the horror of the attacks, declaring, "Our country is safer and our people are resilient."
The Associated Press
How the nation and world are commemorating 9/11
A look at some events nationwide and around the world on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks:
JERUSALEM • At Israel's Sept. 11 memorial a 30-foot bronze sculpture of a waving American flag that morphs into a memorial flame the father of one victim endorsed the crackdown on terrorism. Dov Shefi, the father of Hagay Shefi, who was attending a conference that day in the twin towers, said, "Let us hope that the free world will continue to fight against leaders of terrorist organizations and their supporters; let all the souls of the thousands of victims whose names are marked on this great living memorial in Jerusalem be remembered from here to eternity."
WASHINGTON • President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama laid a wreath at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., in one of several official observances in and around the nation's capital. Obama recalled a day "when grief crashed over us like an awful wave."
SHANKSVILLE, Pa. • Scores of people began arriving shortly after dawn at the site where a United Airlines jet crashed in southwestern Pennsylvania after the crew and passengers revolted against their hijackers. "Every 9/11 I come out to one of the sites," said Robert Hamel of El Segundo, Calif. Hamel spent the 10th anniversary at the ground zero ceremony in New York City last year, and plans to visit the Pentagon for next year's anniversary. Hamel says he feels a need to be connected to the tragic events of the day.
GLEN ROCK, N.J. • For some communities in the New York City region, 2012 was the first year without an official Sept. 11 memorial observance. The northern New Jersey community of Glen Rock held no organized public commemoration. The Glen Rock Assistance Council and Endowment, a community group set up to help families of the town's 11 victims, decided after months of community meetings that it was time to end the public events and let people remember on their own. "It was a difficult decision," said Brad Jordan, the group's chairman. "We felt this year it was more appropriate for a more personal and private observance."
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. • Hundreds of people attended a Long Island ceremony. At the event at Point Lookout Beach in Hempstead, residents wrote messages and names of victims on a panorama of the New York City skyline. Some included the names of service men and women serving overseas.
BOSTON • Names of the more than 200 people with direct ties to Massachusetts who died were read by Gov. Deval Patrick, Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray and family members during a ceremony in Boston. A wreath was placed at the state's 9/11 memorial in the Boston Public Garden.