WASHINGTON — On a cloudless morning much like two years earlier, President Bush recalled the "sad and terrible day" when an unsuspecting America suffered the worst terrorist attack in the nation's history.
From a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery to a White House moment of silence, the nation's capital paused Thursday to remember the more than 3,000 people killed when terrorist-hijacked planes slammed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a rural Pennsylvania field.
On Capitol Hill, the House passed legislation to set up a memorial here honoring the victims of terrorist attacks at home and abroad. The House also voted to posthumously award the Congressional Gold Medal to emergency responders killed in the attacks.
The president and his wife, Laura, on a visit to nearby Walter Reed Army Medical Center, met privately with about 30 soldiers being treated for wounds suffered in Iraq. Bush pinned the Purple Heart on 11 of them and signed autographs for the soldiers and their families. He said he was grateful for the chance to "hug their parents and thank them."
"Laura and I are here to thank brave souls who got wounded in the war on terror, people who were willing to sacrifice in order to make sure that attacks such as September the 11th don't happen again," Bush said.
Flags flew at half-staff on government buildings throughout the capital and across the nation in accordance with a presidential proclamation declaring Sept. 11 as Patriot Day.
After an early-morning service at St. John's Church near the White House, Bush and his wife walked hand and hand across the South Lawn to join more than 1,000 White House employees — cooks and carpenters, groundskeepers and maids, senior officials and junior staffers and members of the military.
They bowed their heads in silence at 8:46 a.m. EDT, the moment the horror began to unfurl as the first plane plowed into the trade center tower. The only sound was the noise of a jetliner climbing from Reagan National Airport.
Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne stood next to the Bushes. After a minute of silence, the foursome turned and walked back into the White House.
The low-key observance was in contrast with last year's anniversary when the president visited all three crash sites and engaged in tearful embraces with relatives of the victims. Aides said the new approach was in keeping with the president's view that the day now should focus on the families.
"Today our nation remembers — we remember a sad and terrible day, September the 11th, 2001," Bush said outside St. John's. "We remember lives lost. We remember the heroic deeds. We remember the compassion and the decency of our fellow citizens on that terrible day."
The church was nearly filled. FBI Director Robert Mueller read from the New Testament about the battle between good and evil. "In all circumstances, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one," he said, quoting from Ephesians.
Rev. Luis Leon, the church's rector, reminded the congregation "to pray for our enemies and to love our enemies." He said this "may be the hardest of all of Jesus' injunctions."
At Arlington National Cemetery, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld remembered the 184 people killed along with five hijackers nearby at the Pentagon. "In our mind's eye we can see the arsenal of democracy that it represents," Rumsfeld said. "The men and women who died there that day were part of that arsenal, defending democracy as surely as any patriot on the front line."
Attorney General John Ashcroft, at a Justice Department ceremony, said the United States was making "quiet, steady progress in the war against terror." Solicitor General Ted Olson, whose wife, Barbara, died on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, said an unrelenting fight against terrorism was the best way to honor the memory of those who perished.
Members of Congress gathered outside the Capitol to sing "God Bless America."
"It has been two years, and our hearts still ache," said Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.
Just hours after the attacks, Democrats and Republicans had stood on the East Front of the Capitol facing the Supreme Court and vowed not to let terrorism keep them from their jobs. On Thursday, they met on the other side of the Capitol facing the National Mall to pledge anew to fight against terrorism.
"We must renew our commitment to the one good thing coming out of Sept. 11, America coming together as one," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.
They also paid special tribute to the passengers of Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pa., after an apparent struggle between passengers and hijackers. Many lawmakers believe that plane was headed toward the Capitol.
"They showed their country and their God that there are heroes still walking among us," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.
"There were some brave souls that made a difference," House Speaker Dennis Hastert said.
On the Net:
White House: www.whitehouse.gov
St. John's Church: www.stjohns-dc.org