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NEW YORK — Clutching photos to their hearts and blowing kisses to the sky, tearful loved ones of Sept. 11 victims recited a 3 1/2-hour litany of the lost Monday, the names echoing across an expanse still largely barren five years after terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center.

At the Pentagon and on a wind-swept Pennsylvania field, and in simpler, quiet moments in airport security lines, at churches or by themselves, Americans paused to reflect on the worst terrorist act on U.S. soil.

The centerpiece of the commemorations was the mostly barren 16-acre expanse at ground zero, where four moments of silence were observed to mark the precise times jetliners crashed into the twin towers and the skyscrapers crumbled to the ground.

The achingly familiar task of reading the names of the 2,749 trade center victims fell this year to their husbands, wives and partners, who personalized the roll call with heartbreaking tributes to the loves of their lives.

"If I could build a staircase to heaven, I would, just so I could quickly run up there to have you back in my arms," said Carmen Suarez, wife of city police officer Ramon Suarez, killed five years ago at the World Trade Center.

On a crisp, sunny day not unlike the morning of the attacks, family members descended into the pit 70 feet below ground where the towers stood, tearfully laying wreaths and roses in the skyscrapers' footprints.

The mournful sound of bagpipes, so familiar from the seemingly endless funerals that followed Sept. 11, echoed across ground zero after a choir performed the national anthem.

The ritual has changed little since the first anniversary of the attacks, and in many ways the site has remained the same as well.

Squabbles over design and security have caused long delays in the project to rebuild at ground zero. Only this year did construction start on a Sept. 11 memorial and the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower, which is not expected to be finished for five more years. At dusk, officials turned on a memorial light display in lower Manhattan, sending beams of blue light skyward in a glowing silhouette of the twin towers.

President Bush laid a wreath at the Shanksville, Pa., field where United Flight 93 crashed, and he privately greeted relatives of the 40 people killed there. Standing without umbrellas in a cold rain, he and first lady Laura Bush bowed their heads for a prayer and the singing of "Amazing Grace."

"One moment, ordinary citizens, and the next, heroes forever," retired Gen. Tommy Franks said, alluding to the Flight 93 passengers who apparently fought the hijackers and forced them to crash the plane into the ground. "We mourn their loss, to be sure, but we also celebrate their victory here in the first battle on terrorism."

The president ate breakfast with New York firefighters, and a day earlier walked ground zero and laid wreaths in reflecting pools that symbolized the north and south towers.

After visiting Shanksville on Monday, the president and first lady placed a wreath near a plaque on the outside of the Pentagon, where American Airlines Flight 77 claimed 184 lives and tore a gash in the building. Bush appeared teary-eyed as he greeted victims' family members around him, and he could be seen mouthing "God bless you" as he embraced them.

At an observance near the Pentagon, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld strode side by side to a speaker's platform.

Rumsfeld appeared to struggle with his emotions as he recalled the day of the attacks, and Cheney vowed resolve: "We have no intention of ignoring or appeasing history's latest gang of fanatics trying to murder their way to power."

The day was marked with reminders of the sometimes tense new reality that settled on the nation, and particularly its transportation systems, after the attacks five years ago.

New York's bustling Pennsylvania Station was briefly evacuated because of a suspicious duffel bag that turned out to be holding only trash. And a jet bound for San Francisco was diverted to Dallas after a backpack and handheld e-mail device were found on board. Both items were pronounced harmless.

In Washington, the co-chairmen of the Sept. 11 commission assailed the Bush administration and Congress for a what they called a lack of urgency in protecting the country. Only about half of the 41 recommendations issued by the commission two years ago have become law.

Former Indiana Rep. Lee Hamilton and former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean cited a failure to distribute adequate homeland security money to cities most at risk for an attack, and said U.S. policy toward Arab nations has been largely ineffective.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino insisted that the administration had adopted many of the commission's suggestions.

At Boston's Logan Airport, security screeners wearing wristbands that read "We will never forget" stopped checking passengers for a moment to mark the anniversary, and travelers waiting in line — another legacy of the attacks — paused to join the tribute.

Ceremonies around the country inevitably included salutes to police and firefighters.

Outside an elementary school in Mascoutah, Ill., not far from Scott Air Force Base, Lt. Col. Jim Williams attended a Sept. 11 ceremony but said the first responders were the true heroes of the day.

"I'm in the military and defend the country, but only in certain times," he said. "They do this every day."

In Akron, Ohio, firefighters rolled their trucks out of their garages and sounded their sirens for 30 seconds at the moment the south tower of the trade center collapsed, and again a half-hour later for the north tower.

The families of the nearly 3,000 people killed five years ago made their way through the anniversary as best they could, the rituals now familiar but never easier.

Among them was the family of Candace Lee Williams, 20, who was on American Flight 11, the first plane to hit the trade center. Her mother, Sherri Williams, remains haunted by the way her daughter died, but comes to ground zero every year "to keep her legend alive."

"It's so hard to believe the five years have passed," Sherri Williams said. "She would have been 25. She wanted to do so much with her life."