LOWER MANHATTAN – Former President George W. Bush, the man who began the worldwide manhunt for 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, and President Barack Obama, the one who brought it to a successful end, visited Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan today together for the first time.
In a show of solidarity, Bush and his wife, Laura, held hands as they walked alongside the Obamas through the newly opened 9/11 memorial plaza to pay their respects to the fallen in the attacks. Both couples paused somberly at the edge of the north memorial pool, looking out at the waterfall where One World Trade Center once stood and the names of victims etched in bronze along the edge.
It was the first time the two presidents have visited the site together and the first for Bush since the killing of bin Laden in May. Obama had invited Bush to join him for a visit to the site in May, shortly after the covert mission, to meet with 9/11 families, fire fighters and first responders. But Bush declined.
The 43rd president has kept a low profile since leaving office, choosing to stay out of politics and the public spotlight. But in a recent, rare post-presidency interview with National Geographic, he reflected on the tragedy.
“September the 11th affected my presidency, and it caused … it caused me to make many decisions,” Bush said. “Some of which were extremely controversial. All of which were designed to protect the homeland. I didn’t have a strategy. I was living day by day.”
Bush took the stage after Obama during today’s commemoration ceremony, reciting an 1864 letter from Abraham Lincoln to a mother who lost five sons in the U.S. Civil War.
“I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save,” he said, reading Lincoln’s words.
“I pray that our heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.”