Americans paused again Tuesday to mark the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks with familiar ceremony, but also a sense that it's time to move forward after a decade of remembrance.
As in past years, thousands were expected to gather at the World Trade Center site in New York, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa., to read the names of nearly 3,000 victims killed in the worst terror attack in U.S. history. President Barack Obama was to attend the Pentagon memorial, and Vice President Joe Biden was to speak in Pennsylvania.
But many felt that last year's 10th anniversary was an emotional turning point for public mourning of the attacks. For the first time, elected officials weren't speaking at the ceremony, which often allowed them a solemn turn in the spotlight, but raised questions about the public and private Sept. 11.
"I feel much more relaxed" this year, said Jane Pollicino, who came to ground zero Tuesday morning to remember her husband, who was killed at the trade center. "After the ninth anniversary, that next day, you started building up to the 10th year. This feels a lot different, in that regard. It's another anniversary that we can commemorate in a calmer way, without that 10-year pressure."
As bagpipes played at the year-old Sept. 11 memorial in New York, family clutching 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. Obama and first lady Michelle Obama observed the moment in a ceremony on the White House's south lawn. Victims' families in New York began the solemn ritual of reading the names of nearly 3,000 killed.
Thousands had attended the ceremony in New York in previous years, including last year's milestone 10th anniversary. Fewer than 500 family members had gathered by Tuesday morning, reading their loved ones' names on the Sept. 11 memorial, built over the twin towers' footprints.
Commuters rushed out of the subway and fewer police barricades were in place than in past years in the lower Manhattan neighborhood surrounding ground zero.
Families had a mixed reaction to the changing ceremony, which kept politicians away from the microphone in New York for the first time.
Charles G. Wolf, whose wife, Katherine, was killed at the trade center, said: "We've gone past that deep, collective public grief" and said it was appropriate that politicians no longer speak.
But Pollicino said it's important that politicians still attend the ceremony.
"There's something missing if they're not here at all," she said. "Now, all of a sudden, it's `for the families.' This happened to our country — it didn't happen only to me."
And Joe Torres, who put in 16-hour days in the "pit" in the days after the attacks, cleaning up tons of debris, said another year has changed nothing for him.
"The 11th year, for me, it's the same as if it happened yesterday. It could be 50 years from now, and to me, it'll be just as important as year one, or year five or year 10."
Political leaders were still welcome to attend the ground zero ceremony.
In a statement marking the anniversary, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said the United States is indeed a united nation in its determination to halt terrorists and to protect freedom "at home and across the world."
Romney was to address the anniversary in a speech to the National Guard in Reno, Nev., later Tuesday, a rare day in which the presidential race will not feature overt campaigning.