Pictures of loved ones killed in the September 11 terrorist attacks
NEW YORK - Victims' families and others gathered and grieved Tuesday at Ground Zero, the Pentagon and near Shanksville, Pa., for the first time after the emotional turning point of last year's 10th anniversary.
In New York City, there will be many formal and informal remembrances to mark one its most tragic days.
"It is extremely important that people never forget what happened on Sept. 11," says New York City Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano, who is attending many events to commemorate those who lost their lives that day.
Security was tight all around the World Financial Center. Police officers in crisp blue uniforms stood among men in suits with badges attached to their belt buckles. Police cars with flashing lights parked just off the West Side Highway near the World Trade Center site. A giant flag on the Freedom Tower unfurled early as cops stood near watching.
Family members held pictures of their loved ones as bagpipers played. A trumpet player stood ready to play.
"We lost 11 that day. Everyone who was working," says Ladder 35 Captain John Miles, who was with other firefighters early Tuesday morning setting up their annual breakfast for active and retired members as well as family members of those who died.
He says that even as the years pass most of the families still come.
"It's good for us that they (the family members) are here and it's good for them that we are here," he says.
An official commemoration will begin in New York Tuesday morning at 8:39 a.m. ET at the National September 11 Memorial plaza, an area that once held the twin towers but now hosts two memorial pools dedicated to the attack victims.
There will be a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m. ET to mark when the first commercial plane struck the north tower. At that time, houses of worship across New York City are expected to toll their bells in remembrance.
For the next few hours, family members of those who perished will recite the victims' names. The names of all 2,983 victims from the twin towers and Pentagon attacks, and those on Flight 93, as well as those who died in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing will be read aloud.
There will be a moment of silence for each time a highjacked plane hits its target and one for when Flight 93 crashed in Shanksville, Pa. There will also be moments of silence at the times that each of the twin towers fell.
President Obama is expected to be among the speakers Tuesday at an invitation-only remembrance for victims and family members of those killed at the Pentagon.
The president will speak after an invocation and a moment of silence at 9:37 a.m. ET, when American Airlines flight 77 hit the building 11 years ago.
Obama and Mitt Romney will temporarily pull their largely negative campaign commercials off TV on Tuesday.
The ceremony will be held across from the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, where 184 metal benches memorialize the 59 crew and passengers and 125 people who were killed.
The event will be modest and will include a wreath laying, and additional remarks by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, says Lt. Col. Tom Crosson, a spokesman for the Defense Department.
The ceremony will be similar to ceremonies in past years, though now there's a new project to look forward to, says Jerry Mullins, spokesman for the Pentagon Memorial Fund, which raised money and developed the memorial.
The fund is preparing for a visitor education center that organizers hope to complete by early 2015, Mullins says. Fundraising has already begun.
"The families are very proud of the memorial," Mullins says. "The recognition, and the pledge that was made 11 years ago -- "Never forget" -- is a great comfort to the families."
In Shanksville, Pa., Vice President Joe Biden will speak during remembrance ceremony at the Flight 93 Memorial, where a hijacked plane crashed during the 2001 attacks.
Of the four planes that terrorists hijacked, Flight 93 was the only one that did not hit its target.
United Flight 93 was traveling from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco when it was hijacked.
The 9/11 Commission said the terrorists likely wanted to crash the plane in Washington, D.C., targeting the White House or the U.S. Capitol, but passengers and crew fought back.
Instead of hitting a national landmark, the plane went down in a western Pennsylvania field killing everyone on board.
The National Park Service says that the service, which begins at 9:45 a.m. ET, will include a reading of the 40 names of the Flight 93 passengers and crew, a ringing of the Bells of Remembrance and a wreathing laying.
The time was chosen to honor the passengers and crew of the flight and commemorate the time period during which they took action to gain control of the flight.
Musical tributes, wreath laying, and additional activities will continue through the afternoon.
Those expected to speak at the Sept. 11 event include Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Patrick White, president of Families of Flight 93.
On Monday, Panetta visited the Flight 93 Memorial and called it "the final resting place of American patriots."
There were remembrance programs hosted at the Flight 93 Memorial over the weekend.
Programs on Saturday examined how children experienced 9/11 and featured journalists who created the first records from the crash site.
On Sunday, members of the FBI spoke about their work at the site.
The Shanksville post office near the site Flight 93 memorial is again offering a special commemorative stamp cancellation. The postmark from the Shanksville post office will include the image of the Flight 93 Memorial Chapel.
The Shanksville post office gets a few thousand requests for the special cancellation each year.
In New York on Tuesday there was a sense that it was a season of change and moving forward for the ground zero ceremony.
It followed a last-minute breakthrough on a financial dispute that had halted progress on the Sept. 11 museum, and the commemoration itself was to be different: For the first time, elected officials won't speak at an occasion that has allowed them a solemn turn in the spotlight, but also has been lined with questions about separating the Sept. 11 that is about personal loss from the 9/11 that reverberates through public life.
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," Pataki reflected by phone last week. Among his friends who were killed was Neil Levin, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
But Pataki 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 only relatives reading victims' names.
The point, memorial President Joe Daniels said, was "honoring the victims and their families in a way free of politics" in an election year.
Some victims' relatives and commentators praised the decision. "It is time" to extricate Sept. 11 from politics, the Boston Globe wrote in an editorial.
But others said keeping politicians off the rostrum smacked of ... politics.
The move came amid friction between the memorial foundation and the governors of New York and New Jersey over financing for the museum - friction that abruptly subsided Monday, when Bloomberg and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an agreement that paves the way for finishing the $700 million project "as soon as practicable."
Before the deal, Cuomo, a Democrat, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, had signaled their displeasure by calling 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.
Spokesmen for Christie and Cuomo said the governors were fine with the memorial organizers' decision.
Of course, it's difficult to remember 9/11 without remembering its impact on the nation's political narrative.
After all, "9/11 has defined politics in America" since 2001, said Costas Panagopoulos, a Fordham University political science professor. "At the end of the day, 9/11 was a public tragedy that affected the nation as a whole."
By Laura Petrecca, Natalie DiBlasio and Oren Dorell