(AP/ABC7) - Americans marked the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks Tuesday in familiar but subdued ceremonies that put grieving families ahead of politicians and suggested it's time to move on after a decade of remembrance.
As in past years, thousands gathered at the World Trade Center site in New York, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa., to read the names of nearly 3,000 victims killed in the worst terror attack in U.S. history.
But many felt that last year's 10th anniversary was an emotional turning point for public mourning of the attacks.
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama observed the moment in a ceremony on the White House's south lawn, and then laid a white floral wreath at the Pentagon, above a concrete slab that said "Sept. 11, 2001 - 937 am."
He later recalled the horror of the attacks, declaring, "Our country is safer and our people are resilient."
“No matter how many years pass, no matter how many years we come together on this hallowed ground, know this - that you will never be alone, that your loved ones will never be forgotten,” Obama said.
Chris Braman was in the Pentagon when the plane hit the building. He helped rescue people as well as retrieve victims.
“Every time I think about the Pentagon or anything here, I think about all of us and how each of us share a special bond on that horrific day,” Braman.
Denille Ingalls is a first time visitor to this memorial. She brought her 3-year-old daughter outfitted in patriotic colors.
“It’s hard to believe that the visions I saw on TV were here and this is actually where it took place,” Ingalls says. “It's incredible.”
A memorial bench honors Lieutenant Colonel Karen Wagner who was killed inside the pentagon on 9/11.
Tuesday, it is surrounded by her sorority sisters who are remembering her life.
Where were you on 9/11?
Virtually everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing that day 11 years ago. Jenna Jones was getting ready for work. She was fixing her hair when she saw the report that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.
Ronald Davis was a cook at a downtown restaurant on 911.
“I thought I was looking at a movie and they were saying this is real,” Davis says. “And the next thing, I saw the second plane hit into the building and everyone was stunned, people were running.”
And when the Pentagon was struck, the terror and chaos hit home. Jackie Porter was working in Crystal City and saw the smoke:
“We just thought it was an attack on America and we didn’t know what was next,” Porter says.
With another hijacked plane rumored to be headed toward Washington, the capitol was evacuated. Some fled to nearby Bullfeathers restaurant, where Leonard Njoku was still waiting tables today.
“Everybody was shouting,” Njoku says. “A lot of people were crying. It was kind of chaos. It was a very, very sad day.”
But getting out of town that day took forever. The bridges were shut down and the mass exodus turned into gridlock. Many just walked.
“We watched people streaming out of Washington, up Wilson Boulevard,” says Arlington resident Mary Kalfatovic. “It was very strange, it was like being in a war zone.”
That brought this so often divided city together. At least for a time.
Remembering in New York
Victims' families in New York tearfully read the names of the attack victims, often looking up to the sky to talk to their lost loved ones."Rick, can you hear your name as the roll is called again? On this sacred ground where your dust settled?" said Richard Blood, whose son, Richard Middleton Blood, Jr., died in the trade center's south tower.
"If only those who hear your name could know what a loving son and beautiful person you grew to be. I love you, son, and miss you terribly."
Thousands had attended the ceremony in New York in previous years, including last year's milestone 10th anniversary.
A crowd of fewer than 200 swelled to about 1,000 by late Tuesday morning, as family members laid roses and made paper rubbings of their loved ones' names etched onto the Sept. 11 memorial.
A few hundred attended ceremonies at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. Commuters rushed out of the subway and fewer police barricades were in place than in past years in the lower Manhattan neighborhood surrounding ground zero.
More than 4 million people in the past year have visited the memorial, which became more of a public space than a closed-off construction site. Families had a mixed reaction to the changing ceremony, which kept politicians away from the microphone in New York for the first time.
Charles G. Wolf, whose wife, Katherine, was killed at the trade center, said: "We've gone past that deep, collective public grief."
There was little politics on an election-year anniversary, with Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney pulling negative ads and avoiding campaign rallies.
Romney shook hands with firefighters in Chicago and was addressing National Guard members in Nevada.
Most ceremonies focused on grief and memory, but there was still a touch of politics from the podium.
"We would like to thank President Obama and (Navy) Seal Team 6 for what they did for this country," said Angella Whyte, referring to the U.S.-led raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden last year.