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Nation pauses on 9/11 to pay tribute to victims

  • A woman wipers her eyes after reading the name of her brother, Bobby Hughes, as friends and relatives of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks gather at the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, for a ceremony marking the 12th anniversary of the attacks in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

    A woman wipers her eyes after reading the name of her brother, Bobby Hughes, as friends and relatives of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks gather at the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, for a ceremony marking the 12th anniversary of the attacks in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

  • Navy Quartermaster Matthew Konchan of Johnstown, Pa., stands in a field of black-eyed Susan as he waits to participate in a wreath laying with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell during a memorial service at the Flight 93 National Memorial on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 in Shanksville. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

    Navy Quartermaster Matthew Konchan of Johnstown, Pa., stands in a field of black-eyed Susan as he waits to participate in a wreath laying with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell during a memorial service at the Flight 93 National Memorial on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 in Shanksville. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

  • Friends and relatives of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks gather at the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, for a ceremony marking the 12th anniversary of the attacks in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

    Friends and relatives of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks gather at the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, for a ceremony marking the 12th anniversary of the attacks in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

  • The World Trade Center Flag is presented as friends and relatives of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks gather at the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, for a ceremony marking the 12th anniversary of the attacks in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

    The World Trade Center Flag is presented as friends and relatives of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks gather at the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, for a ceremony marking the 12th anniversary of the attacks in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

  • A visitor walks through the "Empty Sky" memorial to New Jersey's victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, in Jersey City, N.J. One World Trade Center is visible across the Hudson River. Ceremonies will be held Wednesday to mark the 12th anniversary of the attacks. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    A visitor walks through the "Empty Sky" memorial to New Jersey's victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, in Jersey City, N.J. One World Trade Center is visible across the Hudson River. Ceremonies will be held Wednesday to mark the 12th anniversary of the attacks. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

  • President Barack Obama lowers his head during a moment of silence at the Pentagon, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, during a ceremony to mark the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

    President Barack Obama lowers his head during a moment of silence at the Pentagon, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, during a ceremony to mark the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo rides with firefighters and first responders with the FDNY Motorcycle Club Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, from FDNY Rescue 1 headquarters to the World Trade Center site for the 12th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks. The ride represented the firefighters who responded to the attacks on that day. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

    New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo rides with firefighters and first responders with the FDNY Motorcycle Club Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, from FDNY Rescue 1 headquarters to the World Trade Center site for the 12th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks. The ride represented the firefighters who responded to the attacks on that day. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

  • Four World Trade Center, center, stands next to One World Trade Center, left, in lower Manhattan, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 in New York. Ceremonies will be held Wednesday at the memorial to mark the 12th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

    Four World Trade Center, center, stands next to One World Trade Center, left, in lower Manhattan, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 in New York. Ceremonies will be held Wednesday at the memorial to mark the 12th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

  • Daniel Henry, a Port Authority of New York/New Jersey police officer, pauses during a moment of silence at 9:01 a.m., at the south reflecting pool at the 9/11 Memorial, during ceremonies marking the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, in New York, Wednesday Sept. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Stan Honda, Pool)

    Daniel Henry, a Port Authority of New York/New Jersey police officer, pauses during a moment of silence at 9:01 a.m., at the south reflecting pool at the 9/11 Memorial, during ceremonies marking the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, in New York, Wednesday Sept. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Stan Honda, Pool)

  • FDNY Firefighter Mike Bellantoni of New York prepares a memento at the Firefighter's Memorial adjacent to the World Trade Center Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 before the start of the official ceremonies at the 9/11 Memorial nearby. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

    FDNY Firefighter Mike Bellantoni of New York prepares a memento at the Firefighter's Memorial adjacent to the World Trade Center Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 before the start of the official ceremonies at the 9/11 Memorial nearby. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

  • Retired FDNY Marshal, Ernie Medaglia, of Bronxville, N.Y., who was at the attacks at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, is emotional as he listens to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a ceremony near the 9/11 Memorial honoring first responders and FDNY Rescue 1 on the twelve anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

    Retired FDNY Marshal, Ernie Medaglia, of Bronxville, N.Y., who was at the attacks at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, is emotional as he listens to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a ceremony near the 9/11 Memorial honoring first responders and FDNY Rescue 1 on the twelve anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

  • The National September 11 Memorial and Museum is ringed by skyscrapers, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 in New York. Ceremonies will be held Wednesday at the memorial to mark the 12th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

    The National September 11 Memorial and Museum is ringed by skyscrapers, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 in New York. Ceremonies will be held Wednesday at the memorial to mark the 12th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

  • New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, right, hugs a friend at the 9/11 Memorial during ceremonies marking the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Stan Honda, Pool)

    New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, right, hugs a friend at the 9/11 Memorial during ceremonies marking the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Stan Honda, Pool)

  • People pray at the edge of the North Pool 12th anniversary commemoration of the terrorist’s attacks on the World Trade Center, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 in New York. (AP Photo/Justin Lane, Pool)

    People pray at the edge of the North Pool 12th anniversary commemoration of the terrorist’s attacks on the World Trade Center, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 in New York. (AP Photo/Justin Lane, Pool)

  • The World Trade Center Flag is presented as friends and relatives of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks gather at the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, for a ceremony marking the 12th anniversary of the attacks in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

    The World Trade Center Flag is presented as friends and relatives of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks gather at the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, for a ceremony marking the 12th anniversary of the attacks in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

  • Singer Billy Joel, left, and motorcycle designer and television personality Paul Teutul, Jr., look up at One World Trade Center Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, after they rode with firefighters and first responders with the FDNY Motorcycle Club from FDNY Rescue 1 headquarters to the World Trade Center site for the 12th anniversary commemorations of the 9/11 attacks.  The ride represented the firefighters who responded on 9/11. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

    Singer Billy Joel, left, and motorcycle designer and television personality Paul Teutul, Jr., look up at One World Trade Center Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, after they rode with firefighters and first responders with the FDNY Motorcycle Club from FDNY Rescue 1 headquarters to the World Trade Center site for the 12th anniversary commemorations of the 9/11 attacks. The ride represented the firefighters who responded on 9/11. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

  • Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, foreground left, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, right, attend ceremonies at the 9/11 Memorial marking the 12th Anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, in New York, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013.  (AP Photo/The Daily News,  David Handschuh, Pool)

    Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, foreground left, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, right, attend ceremonies at the 9/11 Memorial marking the 12th Anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, in New York, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/The Daily News, David Handschuh, Pool)

  • President Barack Obama lays a wreath at the Pentagon, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, during a ceremony marking the 12th anniversary of the worst terror attack on the US. The Pentagon was struck by one of the hijacked plane.  (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

    President Barack Obama lays a wreath at the Pentagon, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, during a ceremony marking the 12th anniversary of the worst terror attack on the US. The Pentagon was struck by one of the hijacked plane. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

  • President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Jill Biden stand for a moment of silence on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, to mark the 12th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

    President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Jill Biden stand for a moment of silence on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, to mark the 12th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

  • Carrie Bergonia of Pennsylvania looks over the name of her fiancé, firefighter Joseph Ogren, at the 9/11 Memorial during ceremonies marking the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, Wednesday, Sept 11, 2013.  (AP Photo/Chris Pedota, Pool)

    Carrie Bergonia of Pennsylvania looks over the name of her fiancé, firefighter Joseph Ogren, at the 9/11 Memorial during ceremonies marking the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, Wednesday, Sept 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Chris Pedota, Pool)

  • Civil War re-enactor Cpl. Robert Fuller Houston with the 3rd Regiment Infantry, lowers his head during a prayer at a ceremony Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, marking the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks at the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

    Civil War re-enactor Cpl. Robert Fuller Houston with the 3rd Regiment Infantry, lowers his head during a prayer at a ceremony Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, marking the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks at the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

  • New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, left, and Democratic mayoral hopeful Bill de Blasio attend the 9/11 Memorial ceremonies marking the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Adrees Latif, Pool)

    New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, left, and Democratic mayoral hopeful Bill de Blasio attend the 9/11 Memorial ceremonies marking the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Adrees Latif, Pool)

  • In this photo made with a long exposure, a test of the twin beams of the Tribute in Light intersect with still-under construction Tower One as they rise behind the building and above lower Manhattan, Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, in New York.  The memorial, sponsored by the Municipal Art Society, will light the sky on the evening of Sept. 11, 2013, in honor of those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

    In this photo made with a long exposure, a test of the twin beams of the Tribute in Light intersect with still-under construction Tower One as they rise behind the building and above lower Manhattan, Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, in New York. The memorial, sponsored by the Municipal Art Society, will light the sky on the evening of Sept. 11, 2013, in honor of those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

  • The twin beams of the annual Tribute in Light commemorating the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks shine above the city's skyline, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, in New York, on the 12th anniversary of the attacks. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

    The twin beams of the annual Tribute in Light commemorating the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks shine above the city's skyline, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, in New York, on the 12th anniversary of the attacks. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

  • A woman wipers her eyes after reading the name of her brother, Bobby Hughes, as friends and relatives of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks gather at the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, for a ceremony marking the 12th anniversary of the attacks in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
  • Navy Quartermaster Matthew Konchan of Johnstown, Pa., stands in a field of black-eyed Susan as he waits to participate in a wreath laying with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell during a memorial service at the Flight 93 National Memorial on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 in Shanksville. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
  • Friends and relatives of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks gather at the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, for a ceremony marking the 12th anniversary of the attacks in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
  • The World Trade Center Flag is presented as friends and relatives of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks gather at the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, for a ceremony marking the 12th anniversary of the attacks in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
  • A visitor walks through the "Empty Sky" memorial to New Jersey's victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, in Jersey City, N.J. One World Trade Center is visible across the Hudson River. Ceremonies will be held Wednesday to mark the 12th anniversary of the attacks. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
  • President Barack Obama lowers his head during a moment of silence at the Pentagon, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, during a ceremony to mark the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo rides with firefighters and first responders with the FDNY Motorcycle Club Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, from FDNY Rescue 1 headquarters to the World Trade Center site for the 12th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks. The ride represented the firefighters who responded to the attacks on that day. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
  • Four World Trade Center, center, stands next to One World Trade Center, left, in lower Manhattan, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 in New York. Ceremonies will be held Wednesday at the memorial to mark the 12th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
  • Daniel Henry, a Port Authority of New York/New Jersey police officer, pauses during a moment of silence at 9:01 a.m., at the south reflecting pool at the 9/11 Memorial, during ceremonies marking the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, in New York, Wednesday Sept. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Stan Honda, Pool)
  • FDNY Firefighter Mike Bellantoni of New York prepares a memento at the Firefighter's Memorial adjacent to the World Trade Center Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 before the start of the official ceremonies at the 9/11 Memorial nearby. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
  • Retired FDNY Marshal, Ernie Medaglia, of Bronxville, N.Y., who was at the attacks at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, is emotional as he listens to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a ceremony near the 9/11 Memorial honoring first responders and FDNY Rescue 1 on the twelve anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
  • The National September 11 Memorial and Museum is ringed by skyscrapers, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 in New York. Ceremonies will be held Wednesday at the memorial to mark the 12th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
  • New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, right, hugs a friend at the 9/11 Memorial during ceremonies marking the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Stan Honda, Pool)
  • People pray at the edge of the North Pool 12th anniversary commemoration of the terrorist’s attacks on the World Trade Center, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 in New York. (AP Photo/Justin Lane, Pool)
  • The World Trade Center Flag is presented as friends and relatives of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks gather at the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, for a ceremony marking the 12th anniversary of the attacks in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
  • Singer Billy Joel, left, and motorcycle designer and television personality Paul Teutul, Jr., look up at One World Trade Center Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, after they rode with firefighters and first responders with the FDNY Motorcycle Club from FDNY Rescue 1 headquarters to the World Trade Center site for the 12th anniversary commemorations of the 9/11 attacks.  The ride represented the firefighters who responded on 9/11. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
  • Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, foreground left, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, right, attend ceremonies at the 9/11 Memorial marking the 12th Anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, in New York, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013.  (AP Photo/The Daily News,  David Handschuh, Pool)
  • President Barack Obama lays a wreath at the Pentagon, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, during a ceremony marking the 12th anniversary of the worst terror attack on the US. The Pentagon was struck by one of the hijacked plane.  (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
  • President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Jill Biden stand for a moment of silence on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, to mark the 12th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
  • Carrie Bergonia of Pennsylvania looks over the name of her fiancé, firefighter Joseph Ogren, at the 9/11 Memorial during ceremonies marking the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, Wednesday, Sept 11, 2013.  (AP Photo/Chris Pedota, Pool)
  • Civil War re-enactor Cpl. Robert Fuller Houston with the 3rd Regiment Infantry, lowers his head during a prayer at a ceremony Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, marking the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks at the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
  • New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, left, and Democratic mayoral hopeful Bill de Blasio attend the 9/11 Memorial ceremonies marking the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Adrees Latif, Pool)
  • In this photo made with a long exposure, a test of the twin beams of the Tribute in Light intersect with still-under construction Tower One as they rise behind the building and above lower Manhattan, Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, in New York.  The memorial, sponsored by the Municipal Art Society, will light the sky on the evening of Sept. 11, 2013, in honor of those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
  • The twin beams of the annual Tribute in Light commemorating the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks shine above the city's skyline, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, in New York, on the 12th anniversary of the attacks. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Life in lower Manhattan resembled any ordinary day yesterday as workers rushed to their jobs in the muggy heat, but time stood still at the World Trade Center site while families wept for loved ones who perished in the terror attacks 12 years ago.

For the families, the memories of that day are still vivid, the pain still acute. Some who read the names of a beloved big brother or a cherished daughter could hardly speak through their tears.

“Has it really been 12 years? Or 12 days? Sometimes it feels the same,” said Michael Fox, speaking aloud to his brother, Jeffrey, who perished in the south tower. “Sometimes I reach for the phone so I can call you, and we can talk about our kids like we used to do every day.”

On the memorial plaza overlooking two reflecting pools in the imprint of the twin towers, relatives recited the names of the nearly 3,000 people who died when hijacked jets crashed into the towers, the Pentagon and in a field near Shanksville, Pa. They also recognized the victims of the 1993 trade center bombing.

Bells tolled to mark the planes hitting the towers and the moments when the skyscrapers fell.

In Washington, D.C., President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and wife Jill Biden walked out to the White House’s South Lawn for a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m. – the time the first plane struck the south tower in New York. Another jetliner struck the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m.

“Our hearts still ache for the futures snatched away, the lives that might have been,” Obama said.

A moment of silence was also held at the U.S. Capitol.

In New York, loved ones milled around the memorial site, making rubbings of names, putting flowers by the names of victims and weeping, arm-in-arm. Former Gov. George Pataki, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and others were in attendance. As with last year, no politicians spoke. Mayor Michael Bloomberg watched the ceremony for his final time in office.

Carol Eckna recalled the contagious laugh of her son, Paul Robert Eckna, who was killed in the north tower.

“Just yesterday, you were 28,” she said. “Today, you are 40. You are forever young. Dad and I are proud to be your parents.”

The anniversary arrived amid changes at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, where construction started Tuesday on a new visitor center. On Wednesday, the families of the passengers and crew aboard United Flight 93 recalled their loved ones as heroes for their unselfish and quick actions. The plane was hijacked with the likely goal of crashing it into the White House or Capitol, but passengers tried to overwhelm the attackers and the plane crashed into the field. All aboard died.

“In a period of 22 minutes, our loved ones made history,” said Gordon Felt, president of the Families of Flight 93, whose brother, Edward, was a passenger.

Outside Washington, hundreds of people gathered for a short, simple ceremony at an Arlington County plaza three miles from the Pentagon. First responders from the county were among the first on the scene that day.

Fire Chief James Schwartz said ceremonies like Wednesday’s — which featured an honor guard and a moment of silence— serve as a reminder of why first responders spend so much time preparing for disaster.

“I’ve often said this has been the fastest 12 years of my life,” Schwartz said. “But if you are a surviving family member, I’d imagine this has been the longest 12 years of your life, because you’re waking up every day with a hole in your heart.”

Bloomberg also spoke at a remembrance service for the 84 Port Authority employees killed on Sept. 11 at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, in the shadow of where the World Trade Center once stood.

“On that terrible day, we were united in prayer and compassion for all of you who lost loved ones,” the mayor said. “As we woke up this morning, our first thoughts were with you as well.”

Dozens of family members and colleagues filled the pews as the Port Authority Police Pipes and Drums played during the posting of colors.

Around the world, thousands of volunteers pledged to do good deeds, honoring an anniversary that was designated a National Day of Service and Remembrance in 2009.

By next year’s anniversary, a 9/11 museum is expected to be open beneath the memorial plaza in New York City. While the memorial honors those killed, the museum is intended to present a broader picture, including the experiences of survivors and first responders.

“As things evolve in the future, the focus on the remembrance is going to stay sacrosanct,” memorial President Joe Daniels said.

Douglas Hamatie, whose 31-year-old cousin Robert Horohoe worked for Cantor Fitzgerald and died on 9/11, drew applause from the crowd when he declared that the day should become a national holiday.

“The kids today, they know when the next iPhone’s coming out, and they know when the next Justin Bieber concert is, but they don’t know enough about 9/11,” he said. “So let’s change that, please.”

The organizers have said they will always keep the focus on the families, and that was evident this year as relatives gathered on the tree-laden plaza, where a smaller crowd gathered — only friends and family of the victims were allowed.

Vicki Tureski, who lost her brother-in-law on Sept. 11, said the victims’ families will help each other through the years to come.

“Strangers who are now friends, friends who are now family, family who pull us to our feet each day,” she said. “I promise to continue to keep you in my prayers as we go through decade two of carrying the tragedy of 9/11 with us.”

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