President Obama declined to make any public remarks at Ground Zero this afternoon, but the families of 9/11 who watched him lay a wreath in memory of the victims appreciated his presence.
Among the swamp white oak trees that stand behind the steadily rising Freedom Tower, a procession of policemen and firefighters — their officers’ white caps gleaming in the sunlight — flanked the president’s path. They assembled to the west of a reflecting pool, which marks the spot where the South Tower once stood. Still an active construction site, the plaza was strewn with planks of wood and slabs of concrete. At the heart of the site, however, was the Survivor Tree, a callery pear that survived the attacks. Assisted by Joe Lapointe, a fire lieutenant from Brooklyn, the president laid a wreath of red, white, and blue flowers by the tree.
The president greets officers in back of the Survivor Tree.
After thanking each of the officers for their service and bowing his head in prayer for a few minutes, the president greeted Diane Wall and her daughters, Payton and Avery, who watched the president lay the wreath from afar. Wall’s husband, Glen, died in the attacks. Quietly, the president thanked the girls for coming before meeting a group of victims’ families and public officials. In the crowd was 10-year-old Christopher Cannizza, who was only ten months old when he lost his father, a firefighter, in the attacks. Around his neck, Cannizza wore a gold medallion with his father’s picture on it, which he showed the president.
For a brief moment, Obama addressed the crowd, though not in a voice audible to the press. Gov. Dannel Malloy (D., Conn.), who spoke with reporters after the event, said the president told them he didn’t want to make public remarks. “He extended his condolences to the families,” Malloy said, and told them, “We never forget.” Obama also mentioned a newly minted police officer, a mere six months into his tenure, whose father, also a policeman, died on 9/11. Obama was not of a “celebratory mind,” Malloy noted. Rather, he wished to offer his sympathies to the victims in private.
The Freedom Tower
“The president was extremely cordial,” New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told the press. “We were really honored to have him here.” On a lighter note, Kelly said the president told the police that he liked the NYPD jacket they had given him previously. “He said he wears it all the time,” Kelly added.
Lapointe, who also spoke to reporters, said the memorial service was a reminder to all Americans of what happened that day in September. He said he thought New Yorkers could never forget, but that for other Americans, it was possible. “Ten years feels like it was a long time,” Lapointe said. “But it also seems like yesterday.”
(Video and photo credit: Dan Foster)