May 5, 2011— -- President Obama will personally thank the Navy SEAL team who killed Osama bin Laden, a day after the president told firefighters in New York City today that tracking and killing bin Laden showed the world, "when we say: 'we never forget,' we mean what we say."
The president will meet the SEALs' elite Team 6 Friday at Fort Campbell, Ky., the second day in a row Obama will leave Washington to commemorate Sunday's precision assassination of bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Today, Obama laid a wreath at Ground Zero in a solemn and silent ceremony, as well as meeting with New York firefighters, police officers and the families of those killed on 9/11.
The president helped place the wreath in front of the Survivor Tree, a pear tree rescued from the burning wreckage of the World Trade Center and replanted at the site in December 2010.
Watch "KILL SHOT: THE STORY BEHIND BIN LADEN'S DEATH," a special "20/20" Friday at 10 p.m. ET.
After laying the wreath, the president met with survivors and victims' families, hugging many of them. The first person he greeted was Payton Hall, 14, who lost her father, Glen James Wall, on 9/11 and who recently wrote a letter to the president.
The silence at Ground Zero contrasted sharply with the warm applause from the men of Engine 54 and Ladder 4, the president's first stop in New York City today.
The president is meeting today with those most touched by bin Laden's plot that sent packed jetliners flying into the World Trade Center's twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001.
"The president believes it's appropriate and fitting to travel to New York this week in the wake of the successful mission to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, to recognize the terrible loss that New York suffered on 9/11 and to acknowledge the burden that the families of the victims, the loved ones of the victims have been carrying with them since 9/11, almost 10 years," said White House press secretary Jay Carney.
Obama had invited former president George W. Bush to join him at Ground Zero where Bush, speaking through a bull horn atop the rubble of the World Trade Center, had vowed to track down those who knocked down the skyscrapers. Bush, however, declined the invitation.
As the president visited New York, Vice President Joe Biden led a similar memorial at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. That building was also a target on 9/11, and the ceremony was attended by current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and former secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
The president visited the Manhattan firehouse, dubbed "The Pride of Midtown," as part of his trip to Ground Zero, four days after bin Laden was killed in Pakistan. The firehouse at 48th Street and Eighth Avenue lost 15 men when the twin towers collapsed.
"I wanted to come up here to thank you," Obama told the firefighters. "This is a symbolic site of the extraordinary sacrifice on that incredible day almost 10 years ago. Obviously we can't bring back friends we lost. I know each of you grieves those lost."
"What happened on Sunday... sends a message that when we say: 'we never forget,' we mean what we say," he said.
The president, who was accompanied by former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, then took off his jacket and joined the firefighters for lunch.
Bin Laden's death, secured by a U.S. Navy Seal team Sunday in Abbottabad, Pakistan, has stirred the emotions of 9/11 family members and many said they had mixed feelings about the White House's inability to invite more family members to today's ceremony.
The ceremony comes just three days after Obama announced bin Laden had been killed by U.S. forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and one day after he decided to withhold releasing the gruesome photograph of a dead bin Laden.
Many victims' families received an invitation to the ceremony via email Tuesday night. Others, however, were not invited.
"I feel that every family member should have received an invitation," said Maureen Santores, whose son, a New York City firefighter, was killed at the World Trade Center. "Everyone suffered the same and we should all be with the president to mark this."
Santores said she had been invited to the ceremony and planned to attend.
Ginny Bauer, whose husband was killed at the World Trade Center, however, cut the White House a little more slack.
"I think they did the best they could. I understand why families want to be there, but I also understand why it would be difficult," she said.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the attacks. For victims' families already dealing with the significance of the anniversary, news that Osama bin Laden is dead brings to the fore a flurry of difficult emotions.
Those emotions, many family members said, are further complicated by Obama's decision not to publicly release photos of a slain bin Laden, shot in the head.
Some family members said they support the president's decision, backing his argument that the photo will only serve to incite people who might wish to do harm to more Americans.
"I agree with his reason for not sharing them if it would incite people," said Patricia Reilly, whose sister was killed in Tower 2 of the World Trade Center. "People who are hell-bent on attacking us again are still going to do it, but there is no reason to give people on the fence a reason to do something terrible."
Maureen Santores also agreed with the President's decision, poignantly noting that her son was identified using only his DNA.
"I think president Obama made the right decision about the pictures," she said. "If it was good enough for the families to accept DNA evidence, then it should be good enough for Osama bin Laden."
But for other family members, releasing the photos-- seeing the person who killed their loved ones-- might give them closure, which they compare to family members being allowed to witness a murderer's capital execution.
"The families have already been through so much," said Bill Doyle, whose son Joseph was killed in Tower 1. "I know why people don't want the photos released? but I know a woman whose husband was identified because they found his heart. How much more gruesome can the photos of bin Laden be?"