For four hours under grey skies and rain, hundreds of relatives of the victims of the terror attacks of 11 September 2001 listened yesterday as the names of lost loved ones were read aloud in a now familiar ritual of remembrance and sorrow six years after two planes dipped from the sky and destroyed the twin towers.
"That day we felt isolated, but not for long and not from each other," the Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said as the ceremony in New York began. "Six years have passed, and our place is still by your side."
Recalling an unthinkable day that traumatised the United States and triggered conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, mourners and politicians similarly gathered for services at the Pentagon outside Washington DC and in a field in Pennsylvania, where a fourth hijacked aircraft crashed into the ground. Moments of silence marked the minutes when each plane was destroyed and when each of the giant towers crumbled. The four events claimed the lives of 2,974 victims, not including the hijackers.
A different, less welcome 9/11 tradition was honoured also: the surfacing of another video-tape from Osama bin Laden, the fugitive leader of al-Qa'ida, the terror network responsible for deploying the suicide hijackers. After a year of silence, it was the second such video from Bin Laden in just two weeks.
As in years before, it lionised one of the 9/11 hijackers. Addressing the camera, another al-Qa'ida leader, Waleed al-Shehri, warns the US: "We shall come at you from your front and back, your right and left." Bin Laden himself urged sympathisers with his cause to join the "caravan" of martyrs fighting America.
Meanwhile, in what is billed as his first interview since stepping down last November, the former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld told GQ magazine in its October issue that he considered the military operations in Afghanistan to have been a "big success". He added: "In Afghanistan, 28 million people are free. They have their own president, they have their own parliament. [The situation has] improved a lot on the streets."
But he was less sanguine about Iraq. The Baghdad regime, he went on, "has not been able to... create an environment hospitable to whatever one wants to call their evolving way of life, a democracy or a representative system, or a freer system. And it's going to take some time and some effort."
The 9/11 commemoration arrangements this year were tinged with controversy. New concern surrounds the mounting numbers of cases of emergency workers and other New York residents ailing from the effects of the dust and fumes they inhaled from the towers. A decision to hold the main ceremony not in the pit itself, now crowded with construction materials, but in an adjacent park, angered some family members.
"Just so long as we continue to do something special every year," remarked Kathleen Mullen, who was there to pay tribute to her niece, Kathleen Casey. "So you don't wake up and say: 'Oh, it's 9/11.'"