NEW YORK - President George W. Bush mingled quietly Monday with firefighters and police officers who were among the first to rush to the tragic scene of the burning, collapsing World Trade Center towers five years ago.
Bush's trip to New York to commemorate the September 11 attacks came on a crisp, cloudless morning, eerily reminiscent of the sunny, workaday morning when hijackers commandeering commercial airliners struck, killing nearly 3,000 people.
The president began a grim but high-profile journey through all three scenes of the day's devastation on Sunday with wreath-layings in the vast gash that is all that remains of the World Trade Center's twin towers. Similarly painful memories were being renewed at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
After spending the night in New York, Bush opened the anniversary day with breakfast at a historic Lower East Side firehouse nicknamed "Fort Pitt," in honor of the many first responders who burst into the towers to save lives but lost their own. Outside, with fire trucks and police vehicles as a backdrop, Bush and several dozen firefighters, city police and Port Authority officers were joining in a moment of silence to mark the times when hijacked planes crashed into the two towers.
Later in the day, he was to place more wreaths, on the spot in Shanksville where Flight 93 was diverted from its murderous intentions into the ground and at the rebuilt Pentagon wall where another hijacked jetliner pierced the most enduring symbol of American military might.
Bush concludes the observance with a 9 p.m. EDT (0100 GMT) address to the nation from the White House. With these events, he abandoned the quiet approach he has adopted in recent years to mark the day of America's worst-ever terrorist attack.
One year after the attacks, Bush also visited each site, tearfully embracing family members and delivering symbol-laden speeches from the Pentagon and New York's Ellis Island. But the president hasn't taken that tack since, choosing to observe the anniversaries largely without fanfare.
He typically makes a trip across the street from the White House for a service of remembrance at St. John's Episcopal Church and then presides over a moment of silence on the South Lawn. Aides said at the time this was in keeping with the president's view that the anniversary should be solely about the 9/11 families.
This year, Vice President Dick Cheney remained in Washington and stood in for Bush at the St. John's service.
Bush's tour was rife with symbols that recalled the devastation of the day, and the high point of his presidency that followed.
In an interview broadcast Monday, Bush said that on that fateful day, he came harshly to grip with the reality that "we were involved in an ideological struggle akin to the Cold War."
"In the long term, we've got to defeat an ideology of hate with an ideology of hope," he said on NBC's "Today" show.
"There' a reason why people like [Al-Qaida leader Osama] bin Laden are able to recruit suiciders," Bush said, "because if you don't have hope, you're attracted to an ideology which says, it's OK to kill people and kill yourself."
In a separate interview, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged that the United States does not know bin Laden's whereabouts, but said, "I know that his world has gotten smaller."
The head of the CIA, Gen. Michael Hayden, proclaimed progress.
"Five years into this campaign, we cannot say when victory will come," he said in a message to agency employees. "But we now know the enemy and understand his methods with far greater depth and precision."
On Sunday, Bush and his wife, Laura, set floral wreaths adrift in two small reflecting pools in the pits that are all that remain of the once-soaring twin towers. Afterward, the president attended a service of prayer and remembrance at nearby St. Paul's Chapel.
Jane Vigiano, who lost two sons in the attack - Joe, a policeman and John, a firefighter - greeted the Bushes and sat next to the president. On Laura Bush's side was Bob Beckwith, the retired firefighter who handed Bush the bullhorn through which he vowed vengeance on his first ground zero visit just days after the attacks. Further down was Arlene Howard, the mother of 9/11 victim George Howard, a New York Port Authority police officer. Bush likes to talk about how he keeps Howard's badge as a constant reminder of the attacks.
A tight-faced Bush, clutching his wife's hand, told reporters the anniversary was about "renewing resolve."
Bush aides say the two days of events, and the speech, have no political agenda, despite the congressional elections in November that will determine if the president's Republican Party retains control of Congress.
But in a series of speeches that began over a week ago and are set to continue for at least another week, Bush and his political advisers have sought to frame the November vote as a choice between Republicans who, they say, are effective stewards of Americans' safety and Democrats who would erode protections.
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