By HEATHER HADDON And JOSH DAWSEY
Wednesday marks the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, with events planned across the country to commemorate the tragedy.
The official New York City tribute began at the National September 11 Memorial plaza at the World Trade Center site. Wednesday morning, the names of the 2,983 victims lost in 2001 and the bombing of the site in 1993 were being read, and six pauses were to mark when the planes hit the towers, when they fell and when the Pentagon and Flight 93 were attacked.
Hundreds of families gathered at the memorial, hoisting balloons, pictures and signs into the air as names are read. One family let a group of balloons into the air.
"I miss you every moment," said the mom of Joshua Todd Aron, after she read his name.
With so many years having passed since the attacks, some of the relatives who read names stopped to tell their missing loved ones about milestones: children born, youngsters who have grown up to look like a lost parent.
Christine and Bernard Resta have returned every year since the attacks that killed their son, John, his wife Sylvia Sanpio Resta and the couple's unborn grandchild. "At first when we came, it was all destroyed and leveled, and then little by little it came back to life," Christine Resta, 83 years old, said.
Seeing the spire ascend into the sky—and the reality that people will soon work here again—brings mixed emotions to the couple.
"When I think of the tower, I wonder how people are going to work in it," John Resta, also 83, said. "All I can think about is my son and his wife and the baby." A few seconds later, looking up at the structure, he said "but it's a beautiful building."
His wife said she appreciated the notion that the tower stands for America's resilience—"that we aren't going to take it." But when the couple comes from Florida, where they retired, it's still not easy. "This is sacred ground," she said. "As long as they save the place for that."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Govs. Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo were scheduled to attend the ceremony, along with other dignitaries. Several candidates for mayor, including public advocate Bill de Blasio and City Council speaker Christine Quinn, were in attendance.
Mr. Cuomo was also schedule to participate in a morning tribute motorcycle ride, with musician Billy Joel and members of the FDNY Motorcycle Club slated to attend. The ride was to travel from the FDNY Rescue 1—which lost nearly half its company during the attacks—to the World Trade Center site down the West Side Highway. A prayer service was to be held there.
In Washington, D.C., President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and about 200 other staff members observed a moment of silence under an American flag flown at half-staff on the South Lawn of the White House. The president also attended an observance at the Pentagon.
"Our hearts still ache for the futures snatched away, the lives that might have been," Mr. Obama said at a memorial service at the Pentagon, where 184 people died.
Later Wednesday, the president will participate in a service project as part of the September 11th National Day of Service and Remembrance.
At the City of White Plains' Liberty Park, about 50 people gathered at a granite memorial to the six city residents who lost their lives.
Sitting quietly on a folding chair, Domenico Riverso, clutched a wrapped American flag. His son, Joseph R. Riverso, a 34-year-old bond trader at Cantor Fitzgerald, was killed in the attacks.
"I will always come here, every year, for my son," said Mr. Riverso, 77, as he bowed his head toward the gold etching of his son's name in a gray granite bench.
"It's always with me, I never forget it, every day," Mr. Riverso said, as he pointed his index finger at his heart. "And here every year it is good to know the people of White Plains remember, too."
The FDNY will also hold a Mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine before the laying of wreaths at the Fire Museum at 1 p.m. for the 353 fire department members who died in the attacks.
The "Tribute in Light" will return to the city for one night beginning at sunset Wednesday until dawn the next morning. The twin beams of light emanating from West and Morris streets commemorate those lost.
In Staten Island, the Postcards Memorial was scheduled to host an evening ceremony featuring the names of the 274 people from Staten Island who were lost at the World Trade Center in 2001 and 1993.
In New Jersey, Jersey City held a morning ceremony at its 9/11 memorial with poetry, prayer, song and reflections, along with a ringing of bells for all 37 residents lost.
It was silence that Middletown, N.J., chose to commemorate the 37 people lost there to the Sept. 11 attacks, a muted tribute on a year when victims said they wanted quiet reflection rather than pomp.
"As the years go by, the stories get lost," said Paul Alagna, a 67-year-old Middlesex resident, who attended the tribute to honor his 33-year-old nephew lost in the towers. "I wanted to get back to that. I liked the idea it was silent."
Around 100 people gathered outside the Middletown MTC Memorial Gardens Wednesday morning to mark the moment when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center's North Tower at 8:46 a.m. Family members, local officials and VFW members stood quietly, with only the sounds of crickets and the whistle of the adjacent NJ Transit train audible.
With a population of 66,500, Middletown suffered one of the highest losses per capita from the attacks. Many who died worked at Cantor Fitzgerald and other financial service firms, taking the train to New York early each morning from the suburban community.
In the evening, Hoboken will hold its annual interfaith memorial service in Pier A Park, where there is a memorial. The ceremony will commemorate the 57 residents lost in the Hudson County city.
Mr. Christie will also attend an evening service at the Christian Love Baptist Church in Irvington, N.J. The 12th anniversary service will honor those lost, survivors and first responders.
In Connecticut, local officials will attend a ceremony at a memorial at a private home in Newtown. Organizers say the annual event will carry additional meaning in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting last year.
Timothy O'Connor and Jared A. Favole contributed to this article.