Mayor Michael Bloomberg, opening the ceremony of remembrance, said: "Although we can never un-see what happened here, we can also see that children who lost their parents have grown into young adults. ... Good works have taken root in public service."
As the sun rose, an American flag fluttered over six stories of the rising 1 World Trade Center. The sky was clear blue with scattered white clouds and a light breeze, not unlike the Tuesday morning 10 years ago.
The site looked utterly different than it had for any other Sept. 11 anniversary: Along with the names in bronze, there were two manmade waterfalls directly on the footprints of the towers, surrounded by dozens of white oak trees.
Elijah Portillo, 17, whose father was killed in the attack, said he had never wanted to attend the anniversary because he thought he would feel angry. But this time was different, he said.
"Time to be a big boy," Elijah said. "Time to not let things hold you back. Time to just step out into the world and see how things are."
Remembrances around the nation and world marked a decade of longing for loved ones lost in the attack.
The anniversary revived memories of a September morning when terrorists crashed hijacked planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and a fourth plane crashed into a field in rural western Pennsylvania. Of heroism and Samaritans and unthinkable fear. And of nearly 3,000 killed at the hands of a global terror network led by Osama bin Laden. The 10th anniversary is the first since bin Laden was killed.
In a taped interview, the president told NBC News that the United States "came through this thing in a way that was consistent with our character."
"We've made mistakes. Some things haven't happened as quickly as they needed to," he said. "But overall, we took the fight to al-Qaida, we preserved our values, we preserved our character."
People across America planned to gather to pray at cathedrals in their greatest cities and to lay roses before fire stations in their smallest towns. Around the world, many others planned to do something similar.
On Saturday in rural western Pennsylvania, more than 4,000 people began to tell the story again.
At the dedication of the Flight 93 National Memorial near the town of Shanksville, Bush and former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden joined the families of the 40 passengers and crew aboard the jet who fought back against their hijackers.
"The moment America's democracy was under attack our citizens defied their captors by holding a vote," Bush said. Their choice cost them their lives.
The passengers and crew gave "the entire country an incalculable gift: They saved the Capitol from attack," an untold amount of lives and denied al-Qaida the symbolic victory of "smashing the center of American government," Clinton said.
They were "ordinary people given no time at all to decide and they did the right thing," he said.
"And 2,500 years from now, I hope and pray to God that people will still remember this."
The Pennsylvania memorial park is years from completion. But the dedication and a service to mark the 10th anniversary of the attacks are critical milestones, said Sally Ware, one of the volunteer "ambassadors" who has worked as a guide at the site since the disaster.
Ware, whose home was rocked when the jet crashed two miles away, recalled how hundreds of people flocked to the site in the days afterward to leave their own mementos and memorials. She began volunteering after finding one along the roadside - a red rose placed atop a flight attendant's uniform.
"It really bothered me. I thought someone has to take care of this," said Ware, whose daughter is a flight attendant.
Now, a decade later, she said the memorial may do little to ease the grief of the families of those who died in the crash.
But the weekend's ceremonies recall a story with far broader reach. The ceremonies honor those who "fought the first battle against terrorism - and they won," Ware said. "It's something I don't want to miss. It's become a part of my life."
As the anniversary arrived around the world, people paid tribute in formal ceremonies and quiet moments.
In Japan, they gathered Sunday to lay flowers before a glass case containing a small section of trade center steel, and remembered 23 employees of Fuji Bank who never made it out of the towers.