NEW YORK – Ceremonies and gatherings to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the infamous 9/11 attacks brought out a spirit of unity among those gathered to honor the fallen victims alongside civic servants including police officers, firefighters, and military officers.
In New York, thousands gathered at a small park just outside Ground Zero to mourn loved ones in a somber ceremony under gray, drizzly skies. Many clutched pictures of those lost in the attacks and cried while bells tolled from churches throughout the city.
A few miles away, families of 9/11 victims honored their lost ones by sharing stories as they came together for boat ride on the Hudson River.
Teresa Hunter, who lost her son, told NY1 News that while she thinks about it everyday and prays for her son daily, "faith just pulls us through."
Characteristic of most observances, participants engaged in prayer to initiate the event and observed a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m. ET, the exact moment when the first terrorist attack hit the World Trade Center in New York. At the end of many events, orchestras or bands played "God Bless America."
Ceremonies were also held at the nation's capital to commemorate the day when those at the Pentagon, where the third jetliner targeted, also lost their lives.
In Washington, President Bush commemorated 9/11 with a special prayer service at the nearby St. John's Episcopal Church.
During the service, which was attended by all members of the White House staff, the Rev. Luis Leon preached the dilemma with each anniversary of 9/11 was how "to remember a day that was so difficult and yet at the same time to move on with our lives."
Leon also preached that even though Muslim, Christian, and Jewish traditions all have differences, they are all religions that strive for peace, love and justice.
"I believe as much as anything else that God looks on the heart, our heart and every human heart, as the seed of good and evil," he said. "And while confessions of faith are important, equally important is living a faith that shows justice and mercy, kindness and grace, the grace of God that passes all human understanding…"
Just a few days ago, more than 10,000 walkers had gathered in D.C. to take part in the third annual "America Supports You" Freedom Walk.
"Being here is my Christian duty and my civic duty," Gloria Chance, a Department of Agriculture employee, told American Forces Press Service.
Although Chance said she doesn't often attend Sunday morning church services, she considered the Freedom Walk a worthy exception, according to AFPS.
"It's so important that we as a country embrace the freedoms we have and recognize that Sept. 11 was a direct assault against all of us," she said. "We need to remember that so it doesn't ever happen again - because when you forget the past, that's when it comes right back at you."
The spirit of unity that pervaded across ceremonies Tuesday also spanned across faith lines.
One pastor in Alabama said that the events of the tragedy made America more "God-consciousness."
Not only did more people turn to prayer, said Chris Toole, pastor of SouthPoint Church, in a Eufaula Tribune report, but it forced the church to re-examine their ministry and their church which had become ingrown.
"It made us open our eyes to people of different faiths," said Toole.
In Sacramento, one college student who was a scheduled speaker for the Interfaith Worship Service hosted at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament said the event made her more religious.
Ruben Arocan, contemplating the priesthood, told the Sacramento Bee, "It brought me closer to God but also to the reality that we live in a harsh world. With God in our life, we can always get through that."
This year's anniversary date was the first time Sept. 11 fell on a Tuesday, the same day the 2001 attacks occurred. Fatalities from the series of events totaled 2,974. Flags were to return to full-staff on Wednesday.