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Bush Tours Twin Towers Site

Times Staff Writer

Declaring that he was approaching the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks “with a heavy heart,” President Bush said Sunday that “there’s still an enemy out there that would like to inflict the same kind of damage again.”

The president flew to New York on Sunday afternoon for the start of commemorations that will take him from Manhattan to Pennsylvania and then the Pentagon today before he delivers an address to the nation from the Oval Office at 6 p.m. PDT.

In a deep and sad pit under a somber gray sky, the president and his wife, Laura, stepped up to a red, white and blue wreath and set it afloat in a small, square pool where, five years ago, the World Trade Center’s north tower stood. Moments later, accompanied by a lone Marine in dress uniform, they repeated the presentation with a second wreath at the site of the south tower. In silence, they bowed their heads, then watched the wreath drift toward the center of the pool.

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They reached the “footprint” of the towers after a five-minute walk through air made damp by the Hudson River just to the west, down a steep ramp to the bedrock of Manhattan. Just to the east, the now visible tracks of the subway system carry trains under the river to New Jersey.

The president and his wife then rode through the mostly quiet streets of Lower Manhattan to St. Paul’s Chapel, built in 1766, for an hourlong interfaith worship service. A block from the church, which became a resting point for emergency crews on Sept. 11 and in the days that followed, demonstrators shouted “Arrest Bush!” and held black balloons printed with the message “Troops home now.”

The Bushes sat in the front pew of the church, where George Washington worshiped on April 30, 1789, the day of his inauguration as president.

On a day of quiet grief and symbolism, the pew offered both: To the president’s left sat Jane Vigiano, the mother of a fallen New York City police detective; to the first lady’s right sat Barbara and Bob Beckwith, a retired firefighter. Beckwith, atop a firetruck with the president at his side, became an icon of resilience when Bush first visited the site three days after the attacks.

Reflecting efforts to present an image of a nation united in its commemoration -- if not, five years later, united in the president’s handling of the fight against terrorism -- the service was conducted by an ecumenical gathering: an Episcopal bishop, a rabbi, a Baptist bishop, the Greek Orthodox primate of America and, among others, an imam, Muzammil H. Siddiqi of the Islamic Society of Orange County.

The president made one stop that was not listed on his public schedule: From the church, the motorcade returned to the trade center site, and Bush and his wife walked a block along Liberty Street, the southern perimeter, to the rebuilt fire station of Ladder Company 10 and Engine Company 10.

They shook hands with firefighters, then spent about 15 minutes inside an adjacent building, the Tribute WTC Visitors Center, a museum that houses artifacts of the attack: pieces of the planes that struck the towers, remnants of the buildings and mementos of the victims.

Around the corner, they viewed a 56-foot-long bronze bas-relief depicting firefighters on Sept. 11.

Speaking with reporters in his only public comments of the day, Bush said on the sidewalk in front of the sculpture that it was hard not to think about those who had died -- brought home, with great emotion, by the museum and by his brief visit to ground zero.

“You know, you see the relatives of those who still grieve -- I just wish there were some way we could make them whole. So tomorrow is going to be a day of sadness for a lot of people.

“It’s also a day of remembrance,” he said. “And I vowed that I’m never going to forget the lessons of that day.”

The “horrific scenes,” brought back by the exhibits he viewed, reminded him, he said, “that there’s still an enemy out there that would like to inflict the same kind of damage again.”

“So,” he said, “tomorrow is also a day of renewing resolve.”

Not since Sept. 11, 2002, has the president visited in one day all three sites of the tragedy: the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the field near Shanksville, Pa., where United Flight 93 went down after passengers tried to take control of it from hijackers. He did not plan to take part in the formal ceremonies this morning at the trade center site, but instead will visit a firehouse a mile away on Manhattan’s Lower East Side that contributed to the rescue effort.

Before Bush left Washington, senior administration officials blanketed the Sunday television talk shows, declaring progress in the effort to make the U.S. safer.

“We’re here on the fifth anniversary, and there has not been another attack on the United States,” Vice President Dick Cheney said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And that’s not an accident, because we’ve done a hell of a job here at home.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice offered a cautious assessment of the progress. She said the road ahead would be difficult and long.

“It’s clear that we are safe -- safer, but not really yet safe,” she told “Fox News Sunday.”

Democrats assailed the administration’s efforts, criticizing the failure to capture Osama bin Laden.

Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic Party, said the war in Iraq had distracted from the hunt for the Al Qaeda leader.

“I think we’re in trouble,” Dean said. “We have not pursued the war on terror with the vigor we should have because we’ve gotten bogged down in this civil war in Iraq. What we ought to be doing is going after Osama bin Laden full-scale. We ought to capture him, we ought to kill him.”

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), the party’s 2004 presidential candidate, called Republicans “incompetent,” comparing the fight against terrorism to bureaucratic bumbling after Hurricane Katrina.

“We have a Katrina foreign policy, and we have a Katrina effort with respect to the war on terror,” Kerry said. “We can do better. There is a way to make America safer.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said the administration had not sufficiently funded the Department of Homeland Security, leaving ports and railroad stations inadequately protected. “When it comes to defense in the war on terror, on homeland security, this administration has talked the talk, but they have not walked the walk,” he said.

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james.gerstenzang@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

VOICES

‘I’m always aware there’s a potential terrorist threat.... For most governors, it wasn’t even on the radar screen five years ago.’

Dave Heineman

Nebraska’s governor

--

‘The government and opinion makers are driving this trend of Islamophobia. Unfortunately, it’s worsening. When the president says, "[If we pull out of Iraq] there will be fighting on the streets of America,” what will my neighbors think? Who will they think will be doing the fighting?’

Abdul Malik Mujahid

Chairman, Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago

--

‘Watching the buildings go down was the darkest day in my life, and seeing all the lives affected for no reason, I knew immediately that our troops were going to be called upon to sacrifice their loved ones, and I was so angry about that.’

Toby Keith

Country singer, who poured his anger into “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)”

--

‘Americans seem all too willing to give up some of their liberties in this obsession with terrorism. Osama bin Laden has accomplished everything he could have asked for when he planned 9/11.... He has brought terror and hysteria to this country.... It has been a great triumph for him.’

Leon Litwack

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian at UC Berkeley

--

‘It’s taken a while, not just in Hollywood, but for the entire creative community, to express what happened.... It’s dark and scary territory.... People’s emotions are so high that no matter how you address ... 9/11 you are going to get pummeled.’

Lawrence Wright

Author of “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11"

--

‘I don’t know how you can explain five years of no attacks, five years of successful disruption of attacks, five years of defeating the efforts of Al Qaeda to come back and kill more Americans. You have got to give some credence to the notion that maybe somebody did something right.’

Dick Cheney

Vice president


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