New York, NY — (AP) The voices of children marked the profound horror and grief of Sept. 11, joining in song at ground zero Thursday and reading the names of 2,792 loved ones who died there exactly two years ago.
Two hundred children and young adults, each of whom lost a relative in the most devastating terrorist assault in U.S. history, approached the microphones in pairs and began reading the names as hundreds of victims' relatives listened. Many in the crowd hugged one another and prayed.
"I love you, Daddy. I miss you a lot. Richard Anthony Aceto," Christina Marie Aceto, 12, said as she read her father's name aloud.
Two bagpipers and a drummer opened the ceremony, marching onto the site of the World Trade Center with an American flag that once flew over its ruins. A children's choir sang The Star-Spangled Banner.
Minutes later, the anniversary ceremony at ground zero paused for a moment of silence - the first of four commemorating the times when each jetliner crashed into a tower and when each skyscraper collapsed.
"We come here to honor those that we lost, and to remember this day with sorrow," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Across the nation, bells tolled, firefighters stood at attention, and in many places, moments with no words at all were held for the second anniversary of the terrorist assault that killed more than 3,000 people.
On the White House lawn, President Bush bowed his head in silence at 8:46 a.m., the moment that the first terrorist-hijacked plane struck the World Trade Center.
He left the lawn without speaking, but earlier, he described his thoughts after a morning church service.
"We remember the lives lost," Bush said. "We remember the heroic deeds. We remember the compassion, the decency of our fellow citizens on that terrible day.
"We pray for the husbands and wives, the moms and dads and the sons and daughters and loved ones ... we pray for strength and wisdom."
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld presided over a somber ceremony at the Pentagon and attended a wreath-laying ceremony at nearby Arlington National Cemetery. Solicitor General Ted Olson, whose wife, Barbara, died in the attack, told Justice Department employees that an unrelenting fight against terrorism is the best way to honor the memory of those who perished.
"Their suffering and deaths must fuel our dedication to stamp out this cancer," Olson said.
In rural Pennsylvania, church bells began tolling solemnly shortly after 10 a.m., marking the moment hijacked Flight 93 crashed in a field near Shanksville as passengers tried to fight off their hijackers. The plane was believed to be headed to the nation's capital.
In New York, families began arriving at the World Trade Center site well before the ceremony, many wearing ribbons of white or black, symbolizing mourning, or yellow, for hope. They carried flowers - daisies, petunias and roses to leave on the bedrock during the ceremony.
The footprint of the trade center's north tower was outlined by a 4-foot fence draped with banners bearing drawings and messages painted by children of the victims.
One was a simple red heart with the inscription: "To my Dad, Steve Chucknick. Your in my heart forever. Love always, your son Steven."
As the children carried out the solemn, careful task of reading the names of the victims, in breaks, Bloomberg and other dignitaries read poems and inspirational quotations.
The readings took 2½ hours, and two trumpeters blew taps in a sad postscript.
Some of the victims' family members knelt to touch the trade center's bedrock during the ceremony, and a few scooped up handfuls of dirt. As the names were read, some held cell phones up so others unable to attend could hear.
"I know I'm very proud of my children," said Lynn Morris, whose husband, Seth Allan Morris, died Sept. 11, 2001, and whose two children, 11-year-old Madilynn and 9-year-old Kyle, were reading names. "It's amazing the strength that they have developed over the years."
A silent vigil began Wednesday night in New York at St. Paul's Chapel, once in the shadow of the trade center.
"There's no getting over it; there's just getting through it," said the Rev. Julie Taylor, 33.
At sunrise, about 200 people sat quietly at an ecumenical service at a small park not far from ground zero that included a violinist, readings of poems and songs by a children's choir.
"I was hoping to get a couple minutes to face up to all the emotions of the day and to continue the process of trying to adjust," said Nathaniel Hupert, 37, a public health researcher.
At sunset, over the site where the World Trade Center once stood, two light beams pointing skyward were to be switched on, evoking the image of the twin towers in a reprise of a popular monthlong memorial unveiled in March 2002.
Elsewhere in the nation, reminders of life, death and peace commemorated the day.
Twisted steel taken from the ruins and shipped to other states for memorials was at the center of ceremonies from North Dakota to Florida to a New Mexico church that uses two trade center beams as part of its bell tower.
In Toledo, Ohio, the mayor's wife people began reading the names of the victims, expected to take a series of people several hours. Afterward, white doves were to be released. At Boston's Logan International Airport, where two of the hijacked planes took off, there was a moment of silence to remember the victims.
"Think not of the empty chair, but the people who filled those chairs," said Jim Ogonowski, whose pilot brother, John, was killed when his hijacked plane hit the World Trade Center. He spoke outside the Massachusetts Statehouse.
"We must find the inner strength and courage to live our own lives in a way which they would have wanted," he said.