Children yearned for lost parents and grown men and women sobbed in raw grief on the hard stone bearing the names of nearly 3000 dead as America commemorated the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
The name of every person killed in al Qaeda's hijacked plane attacks was read this morning in the nearly five-hour-long centrepiece of a heart-wrenching ceremony where the World Trade Center twin towers stood.
"I haven't stopped missing my Dad. He was awesome," said Peter Negron, a child when his father, Pete, was killed in one of the towers.
"I wish my Dad had been there to teach me how to drive, ask a girl out on a date and see me graduate from high school and a hundred other things I can't even begin to name."
There were smaller ceremonies in Shanksville, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon outside Washington, the other sites where 19 men from the Islamic militant group al Qaeda crashed hijacked airliners on the sunny Tuesday morning of September 11, 2001.
The attacks led US forces to invade Afghanistan to topple the Taleban rulers who had harboured al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Washington began a "war on terror" that ousted Iraq's Saddam Hussein and persists on several fronts to this day.
"Ten years have passed since a perfect blue sky morning turned into the blackest of nights," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at New York's Ground Zero.
"Since then, we've lived in sunshine and in shadow, and although we can never unsee what happened here, we can also see that children who lost their parents have grown into young adults, grandchildren have been born and good works and public service have taken root to honour those we loved and lost."
Thousands gathered at the site on a clear morning to grieve. With security tight and no traffic, there was an eerie silence where the 110-storey skyscrapers collapsed a decade ago, sending a noxious cloud over lower Manhattan.
President Barack Obama, who was set to visit all three attack sites Sunday, read from Psalm 46 in New York: "God is our refuge and strength."
The ceremony - with the wail of bagpipes, youthful voices singing the national anthem and firefighters holding aloft a tattered American flag retrieved from Ground Zero - drew tears. Family members wore T-shirts with the faces of the dead, carried photos, flowers and flags in an outpouring of emotion.
For the first time, relatives saw the just-finished memorial and touched the stone where the names of their dead loved ones were etched.
Some left flowers, others small teddy bears. Some used pencils to rub the names on paper, some took pictures, others leaned against the stone and cried.
The names of the dead were read by wives and husbands, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers and children, some choked with emotion at their personal loss.
"May your soul finally rest in peace. Your son Nathan and I, as the years go by, grow strong. Goodbye, my dear friend, my teacher and my hero," said Candy Glazer.
Glazer's husband, Edmund Glazer, cheerfully called his wife from Flight 11 not long before he died when the plane hit the north tower - the first of that day's horrific events.
The September 11, 2001, attacks claimed the lives of people from more than 90 countries. They were followed by al Qaeda bombing assaults in London, Madrid and elsewhere and brought an international campaign aimed at ferreting out their members.
"God bless every soul that we lost," said former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani who was called "America's mayor" for his leadership after the attacks.
At the Pentagon ceremony, Vice President Joe Biden said, "Al Qaeda and bin Laden never imagined that the 3000 people who lost their lives that day would inspire 3 million to put on the uniform, and harden the resolve of 300 million Americans."
"SO MANY NAMES ..."
The New York memorial includes two plazas in the shape of the footprints of the twin towers with cascading 10-metre waterfalls. Around the perimeters of pools in the centre of each plaza are the names of the victims of the September 11 attacks and an earlier 1993 attack at the World Trade Center.
Obama visited the North Memorial Pool, which sits in the footprint of the north tower. He walked around it hand-in-hand with first lady Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura.
The president touched the etched names of the dead before he greeted some family members.
"So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart," said former New York Governor George Pataki, reading from the Billy Collins poem "The Names."
Police in New York and Washington were on high alert against a "credible but unconfirmed" threat of an al Qaeda plot to attack the United States again on the 10th anniversary.
At Shanksville, Obama laid at a wreath where a plane crashed after passengers overwhelmed hijackers intent of hitting the White House or US Capitol building.
Chants of "USA, USA" broke out from the crowd, gathered at the foot of a grassy hill. The Obamas talked at length with family members. "Thank you for keeping us safe," one man yelled out to him.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett said the passengers on Flight 93 - remembered forever in Todd Beamer's "Let's roll" rallying cry - "set a new standard for American bravery."
Pope Benedict prayed for September 11 victims and appealed to those with grievances to "always reject violence."
In May, nearly a decade after September 11, US forces killed al Qaeda founder bin Laden at his hideout in Pakistan.
The attacks prompted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the Pentagon still has a large number of troops and where violence persists.
"The 9/11 attacks were the beginning of a long winter in world history," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Brussels.
"But events in the Middle East have renewed our faith that although the desire for freedom can be repressed, it can never be extinguished. The Arab spring is a new season of hope for us all."
Sunday's Ground Zero ceremony (early this morning, NZT) had moments of silence marking when the planes hit the twin towers as well as when they collapsed. Other moments of silence marked when a plane hit the Pentagon and another crashed in Shanksville.
After a faltering start, there are signs of rebuilding progress at the World Trade Center. The new One World Trade Center rises more than 80 storeys above the ground as it inches to its planned 1776-foot (541-metre) height - symbolic of the year of America's independence from Britain.
For many - particularly the more than 1100 families who received no remains of their dead - Sunday was the closest they came to a funeral for loved ones. With the memorial complete, it offered for the first time something resembling a final resting place and a formal place to mourn.
"When we came out here 10 years ago there was a hole in the earth and that's how we felt," said Dakota Hale, 25, of Denver, who lost his stepfather, flight attendant Alfred Marchand.
"Now, 10 years later there is grass and water, and it feels kind of like a new beginning."
US TEAM REMEMBER 9/11 FALLEN
United States Eagles rugby team halfback Mike Petri was given an emotional reminder of the events of September 11, 2001 before his team’s opening World Cup game against Ireland last night.
Petri comes from New York and plays for the New York Athletic Cup.
After their 22-10 loss to Ireland in New Plymouth, Petri spoke of an incredibly emotional event that took place just before the game.
''With the American team we do a jersey presentation before our games,” Petri said.
''Usually the captain is the one that gives the jerseys out, but on this occasion it was really special for me because one of my fellow alumni from Xavier High School in New York flew all the way down here from New York City to present me with my jersey.
''His name is John Lugano and his brother Sean Lugano was also a rugby player from Xavier and was killed on September 11.
''He turned down the opportunity to be with his family on this day, to come down here and spend the weekend with us and come to the game.
''I played rugby with his younger brother Mike and it was amazing to get that jersey from him. It was really emotional.''
Sean Lugano was in the World Trade Center when it was attacked. The rugby field at Maryland University has been named the Sean Lugano Memorial Field in his honour.
The US players attended a memorial service in New Plymouth before they played Ireland and all were touched by the occasion.
Formal ceremonies have been held around the world to remember those who perished from more than 90 countries.
AROUND THE WORLD
The memorial service in New Plymouth was among the first to mark the anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
At St Andrew's Presbyterian Church the US Eagles players listened to a speech by US ambassador David Huebner, whose brother Rick survived the attacks on the World Trade Centre.
"We watched live on television the brutal murder of 3000 individuals," Huebner said. "We reacted with near unanimous horror and sadness."
"As we mark the 10th anniversary of that day, we commemorate the triumph of human kindness, and the humanity and self-abrogation which sets us apart from every other species on this planet Earth."
Visiting New Yorkers Sean Gill, a National Guardsman, Robert Pumilia, an NY police officer and Michael Wickham, from a New York television news station, said when they heard the service was on they knew they would attend it.
''We've been planning this trip for two years but never realised it would be the 10-year anniversary while were over there,'' Mr Gill said.
''We just arrived in town, just got over our jet lag but saw it was on and definitely had to be here.''
He hoped the extra motivation would help spur the Eagles on to what would be a famous victory at Stadium Taranaki.
''It was really moving, very emotional, very well done.
In Australia, Sydney resident Rae Tompsett said she's never felt angry over the murder of her son Stephen Tompsett, 39, a computer engineer who was on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center's north tower when it was hit by a hijacked plane.
"No, not anger," she said. "Sorrow. Sorrow that the people who did this believed they were doing something good."
The retired school teacher and her husband Jack, 92, were planning to attend Sunday morning mass as usual at their local church before going to a commemorative service in the afternoon.
"It's incredible that it is 10 years — it feels a bit like yesterday," Tompsett said.
For some people, the pain never stops. In Malaysia, Pathmawathy Navaratnam woke up Sunday in her suburban Kuala Lumpur home and did what she's done every day for the past decade: wish her son "Good morning." But Vijayashanker Paramsothy, a 23-year-old financial analyst, was killed in the attacks on New York.
"He is my sunshine. He has lived life to the fullest, but I can't accept that he is not here anymore," said Navaratnam. "I am still living, but I am dead inside."
In Japan, families gathered in Tokyo to pay their respects to the 23 Fuji Bank employees who never made it out of their World Trade Center office. A dozen of the workers were Japanese.
One by one, family members laid flowers in front of an enclosed glass case containing a small section of steel retrieved from Ground Zero. They clasped their hands and bowed their heads. Some took pictures. Others simply stood in solemn silence. There were no tears, just reflection.
Kunitake Nomura, 76, a former Fuji Bank employee who mourns losing his younger co-workers, attended a subsequent memorial service.
"We need to try to understand each other," Nomura said. "We need to overcome differences in race and religion and learn to live in peace. We are all brothers after all. We must remind ourselves of this today."
The Taleban marked the anniversary by vowing to keep fighting against US forces in Afghanistan and saying they had no role in the September 11 attacks.
"Each year, 9/11 reminds the Afghans of an event in which they had no role whatsoever," a statement emailed to news organisations said. "American colonialism shed the blood of tens of thousands of miserable and innocent Afghans."
The US and its allies invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, after the Taleban who then ruled the country refused to hand over September 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden. The al Qaeda leader was at the time living in Afghanistan, where the terror network retained training camps and planned attacks against the US and other countries.
- AP, Reuters, Stuff and Taranaki Daily News