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US marks 9/11 with acts of volunteerism

US President Barack Obama vowed the United States "will never falter" in the pursuit of al-Qaida as he marked the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks by placing a wreath at the site of the attack on the Pentagon.

"Let us renew our resolve against those who perpetrated this barbaric act and who plot against us still," Obama said under rainy skies at the memorial to the victims. "In defense of our nation, we will never waver."

Memorials in New York, at the Pentagon and at the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93 in Pennsylvania all took place under gray skies.

But the commemorations were almost overshadowed by mistaken reports that the Coast Guard had opened fire on a suspicious vessel near ceremonies attended by the president.

The reports sent the FBI scrambling and as a precaution, departures from Reagan National Airport were halted for about 22 minutes at midmorning.

In fact, no shots were fired and it was only a training exercise.

The Coast Guard's chief of staff, John Currier, said participants in the exercise were given simulated instructions by radio to fire 10 rounds, and someone said "bang, bang, bang," - the routine signal of compliance in drills that don't involve live fire.

In New York, at ground zero, a chilly rain fell and those reading names at the World Trade Center site spoke under tents.

"We miss you. Life will never be the same without you," said Vladimir Boyarsky, whose son, Gennady Boyarsky, was killed. "This is not the rain. This is the tears."

In the hours after the attack and for weeks afterward, volunteers responded to New York City's needs, sending emergency workers to help with the recovery, cards to victims' families, and boxes of supplies.

"Each act was a link in a continuous chain that stopped us from falling into cynicism and despair," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton received a standing ovation from Sept. 11 family members and volunteers at a tribute to the first National Day of Service and Remembrance at Manhattan's Beacon Theatre last night.

"September 11 will always be a day that represents humanity at its worst and humanity at its best," Clinton said as she thanked the audience for ushering in a new era of service.

In an annual tradition, two bright blue beams of light rose from lower Manhattan in memory of the fallen towers last night.

Across the country, Americans marked the anniversary with service projects.

Volunteers in Boston stuffed packages for military personnel overseas. In Tennessee and West Virginia, they distributed donated food for the needy. Community volunteers in Maine worked on a garden and picnic area for families transitioning out of homelessness.

In Chicago, they tilled community gardens, cooked lunch for residents of a shelter and packed food for mothers and babies. And on the lawn of the Ohio Statehouse, volunteers arranged nearly 3,000 small American flags, in a pattern reminiscent of the trade center's twin towers. At the top was an open space in the shape of a pentagon.

At a plaza adjacent to the World Trade Center site, volunteers - from soup kitchens, advocacy groups, the Red Cross, the United Way - joined relatives of the lost to read the names of those killed in the twin towers.

"I ask that you honor my son and all those who perished eight years ago ... by volunteering, by making some kind of act of kindness in their memory," said one of the readers, Gloria Russin, who lost her son, Steven Harris Russin.

Moments of silence were observed at 8:46, 9:03, 9:59 and 10:29 a.m. - the precise times that jetliners struck the north and south towers of the trade center and that each tower fell.

At the World Trade Center site, relatives and friends of victims visited a partially built, street-level Sept. 11 memorial plaza that had not been there a year ago.

The memorial, to be partially complete by the 10th anniversary in 2011, will ultimately include two square pools evoking the towers' footprints, with victims' names surrounding them and waterfalls cascading down the sides.

Eight years after 2,976 perished in the attacks, Obama vowed at the Pentagon that the United States "will never falter" in pursuit of al-Qaida. "Let us renew our resolve against those who perpetrated this barbaric act and who plot against us still," he said.


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