NEW YORK — President Barack Obama said Thursday that the true legacy of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is the love, compassion and sacrifice demonstrated by those whose lives were claimed.
Obama joined victims’ families, survivors and rescue workers today to dedicate the 9/11 Memorial Museum in lower Manhattan, which he said would be a “sacred place of healing and hope.”
“It is an honor for us to join in your memories,” Obama said. “To remember and to reflect, but above all to reaffirm the true spirit of 9/11: love, compassion, sacrifice and to enshrine it forever in the heart of our nation.”
They gathered on the site where the World Trade Center once stood and almost 3,000 died, and proceeded to a hall seven stories underground. There, they stood near the exposed Manhattan bedrock that once held the Twin Towers’ foundation before terrorists crashed two hijacked jets into the buildings, causing the conflagration that destroyed them.
The attacks more than 12 years ago demonstrated that the U.S. is “a nation that stands tall and united and unafraid,” Obama said. “Nothing could ever break us. Nothing can change who we are as Americans.”
Obama and first lady Michelle Obama joined former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in taking a guided tour led by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is also chairman of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
“This museum, built on the site of rubble and ruins, is now filled with the faces, the stories and the memories of our common grief and our common hope,” said Bloomberg, whose 12 years in office spanned most of the rebuilding at the site. “Walking through this museum can be difficult at times, but it is impossible to leave without feeling inspired.”
Current Mayor Bill de Blasio also spoke, as did predecessor Rudolph Giuliani, who ran the city on Sept. 11, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
On Sept. 11, 2001, 19 al-Qaida terrorists hijacked four U.S. jetliners, crashing two into the north and south towers of the Trade Center. A third slammed into the Pentagon, and passengers and crew tried to commandeer the fourth, though it crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pa. The 2,983 deaths marked the single largest loss of life from a foreign attack on American soil.
Inside the museum, twisted steel beams, mangled fire trucks, and the teddy bears, family photos and other personal effects that adorned workers’ desks offer silent testimony. They are juxtaposed with the sounds of sirens, screams of horror and calm radio dispatches of doomed firefighters. The museum also pays tribute to the six people killed in the World Trade Center bombing of February 1993.
The 110,000 square feet of exhibition space stands adjacent to a memorial that attracts 5 million visitors a year. It features twin reflecting pools in the space where the towers stood, each almost an acre in size, surrounded by hundreds of oak trees.
“We stand in the footprints of two mighty towers graced by the rush of eternal waters,” Obama said. “We look into the faces of nearly 3,000 innocent souls — men and women and children of every race, every creed from every corner of the world. We can touch their names and hear their voices and glimpse the small items that speak to the beauty of their lives. A wedding ring. A dusty helmet. A shining badge.”
Bloomberg helped raise about $450 million of the $700 million combined cost of the memorial and museum from private sources. He is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
— With assistance from Margaret Talev in Washington.