Obama at 9/11 museum dedication: No act of terror can match strength of US

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Obama at 9/11 museum dedication: No act of terror can match strength of US
President Barack Obama speaks in Tarrytown, N.Y., near the Tappan Zee Bridge, in the background, Wednesday, May 14, 2014, about the need for a 21st Century Transportation Infrastructure. (AP Photo)
President Barack Obama and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg tour the destroyed Ladder 3 truck at the September 11 Memorial Museum, Thursday, May 15, 2014, in New York. Speaking at the dedication, the president said, no act of terror can match the strength and character of the United States. He says, quote, "Nothing can ever break us." (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Barack Obama speaks at the dedication ceremony for the National September 11 Memorial Museum on Thursday, May 15, 2014 in New York. The museum opens to the public on May 21. (AP Photo/John Angelillo, Pool)
President Barack Obama and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg tour the destroyed Ladder 3 truck at the September 11 Memorial Museum,Thursday, May 15, 2014, in New York. Obama spoke at the dedication in New York for the National September 11 Memorial Museum, saying the museum tells the story of 9/11 so that future generations will never forget. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
As the image of Wells Crowther, a victim of the September 11 attacks is displayed behind him, President Barack Obama speaks at the National September 11 Memorial Museum, Thursday, May 15, 2014, in New York. Obama spoke at the dedication in New York for the National September 11 Memorial Museum. He said the museum tells the story of 9/11 so that future generations will never forget. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, former President Bill Clinton, and Diana Taylor, tour the Memorial Hall at the National September 11 Memorial Museum, Thursday, May 15, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, along with former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former President Bill Clinton tour the Memorial Hall at the National September 11 Memorial Museum with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Thursday, May 15, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton tour Memorial Hall at the National September 11 Memorial Museum with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Thursday, May 15, 2014, in New York. Speaking at the dedication, the president said, no act of terror can match the strength and character of the United States. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Barack Obama speaks at the National September 11 Memorial Museum, Thursday, May 15, 2014, in New York. Speaking at the dedication, the president said, no act of terror can match the strength and character of the United States. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
As the twin towers are displayed behind him, President Barack Obama speaks at the National September 11 Memorial Museum, Thursday, May 15, 2014, in New York. Speaking at the dedication, the president said, no act of terror can match the strength and character of the United States. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Barack Obama and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg tour the destroyed Ladder 3 truck at the September 11 Memorial Museum, Thursday, May 15, 2014, in New York. Speaking at the dedication, the president said, no act of terror can match the strength and character of the United States. He says, quote, "Nothing can ever break us." (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
President Barack Obama speaks at the dedication ceremony for the National September 11 Memorial Museum on Thursday, May 15, 2014 in New York. (AP Photo/John Angelillo, Pool)
President Barack Obama speaks at the dedication ceremony for the National September 11 Memorial Museum on Thursday, May 15, 2014 in New York. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, Pool)
President Barack Obama speaks at the dedication ceremony for the National September 11 Memorial Museum on Thursday, May 15, 2014 in New York. (AP Photo/Timothy A. Clary, Pool)
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama wave as they board Air Force One at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Thursday, May 15, 2014. After they attended the dedication of the 9/11 museum at the World Trade Center site Thursday before it opens to the public on May 21. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 15: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), accompanied by his wife Mary Pat Christie, delivers his remarks during the dedication ceremony in Foundation Hall at the National September 11 Memorial Museum at ground zero May 15, 2014 in New York City. The museum spans seven stories, mostly underground, and contains artifacts from the attack on the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001 that include the 80-foot high tridents, the so-called 'Ground Zero Cross,' the destroyed remains of Company 21's New York Fire Department Engine as well as smaller items such as letter that fell from a hijacked plane and posters of missing loved ones projected onto the wall of the museum. The museum will open to the public on May 21. (Photo by Richard Drew-Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 15: People watch a live video from the Ground Zero memorial site of the dedication ceremony of the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York May 15, 2014 in New York City. The museum spans seven stories, mostly underground, and contains artifacts from the attack on the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001 that include the 80 ft high tridents, the so-called 'Ground Zero Cross,' the destroyed remains of Company 21's New York Fire Department Engine as well as smaller items such as letter that fell from a hijacked plane and posters of missing loved ones projected onto the wall of the museum. The museum will open to the public on May 21. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 15: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during the dedication ceremony at the National September 11 Memorial Museum May 15, 2014 in New York City. In the foreground New Jersey first lady Mary Pat Christie puts her hand on the shoulder of her husband, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. The museum spans seven stories, mostly underground, and contains artifacts from the attack on the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001 that include the 80 ft high tridents, the so-called 'Ground Zero Cross,' the destroyed remains of Company 21's New York Fire Department Engine as well as smaller items such as letter that fell from a hijacked plane and posters of missing loved ones projected onto the wall of the museum. The museum will open to the public on May 21. (John Munson-Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 15: U.S. President Barack Obama (R) is greeted by Alson Crowther (C) and Ling Young (L) during the dedication ceremony at the National September 11 Memorial Museum September 11 Memorial Museum at ground zero May 15, 2014 in New York City. The museum spans seven stories, mostly underground, and contains artifacts from the attack on the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001 that include the 80 ft high tridents, the so-called 'Ground Zero Cross,' the destroyed remains of Company 21's New York Fire Department Engine as well as smaller items such as letter that fell from the hijacked plane and posters of missing loved ones projected onto the wall of the museum. The museum will open to the public on May 21. (Photo by Tim Clary-Pool/Getty Images)
New Jersey governor Chris Christie (R) chats with Mayor Bill de Blasio (L) at the dedication of the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York, on May 15, 2014. US President Barack Obama inaugurated the museum commemorating the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda suicide attackers which killed nearly 2,800 people. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 15: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during the opening ceremony for the National September 11 Memorial Museum at ground zero May 15, 2014 in New York City. The museum spans seven stories, mostly underground, and contains artifacts from the attack on the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001 that include the 80 ft high tridents, the so-called 'Ground Zero Cross,' the destroyed remains of Company 21's New York Fire Department Engine as well as smaller items such as letter that fell from the hijacked plane and posters of missing loved ones projected onto the wall of the museum. The museum will open to the public on May 21. (Photo by Tim Clary-Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 15: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio delivers his remarks during the dedication ceremony in Foundation Hall at the National September 11 Memorial Museum at ground zero May 15, 2014 in New York City. The museum spans seven stories, mostly underground, and contains artifacts from the attack on the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001 that include the 80-foot high tridents, the so-called 'Ground Zero Cross,' the destroyed remains of Company 21's New York Fire Department Engine as well as smaller items such as letter that fell from a hijacked plane and posters of missing loved ones projected onto the wall of the museum. The museum will open to the public on May 21. (Photo by Richard Drew-Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 15: Members of the Port Authority Police pause at the Ground Zero memorial site during the dedication ceremony of the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York May 15, 2014 in New York City. The museum spans seven stories, mostly underground, and contains artifacts from the attack on the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001 that include the 80 ft high tridents, the so-called 'Ground Zero Cross,' the destroyed remains of Company 21's New York Fire Department Engine as well as smaller items such as letter that fell from a hijacked plane and posters of missing loved ones projected onto the wall of the museum. The museum will open to the public on May 21. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 15: People watch a live video from the Ground Zero memorial site of the dedication ceremony of the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York May 15, 2014 in New York City. The museum spans seven stories, mostly underground, and contains artifacts from the attack on the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001 that include the 80 ft high tridents, the so-called 'Ground Zero Cross,' the destroyed remains of Company 21's New York Fire Department Engine as well as smaller items such as letter that fell from a hijacked plane and posters of missing loved ones projected onto the wall of the museum. The museum will open to the public on May 21. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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By JONATHAN LEMIRE and JENNIFER PELTZ

NEW YORK (AP) -- President Barack Obama praised the new Sept. 11 museum on Thursday as "a sacred place of healing and of hope" that captures both the story and the spirit of heroism and helpfulness that followed the attacks.

"It's an honor to join in your memories, to recall and to reflect, but above all to reaffirm the true spirit of 9/11 - love, compassion, sacrifice - and to enshrine it forever in the heart of our nation," he told an audience of victims' relatives, survivors, rescuers and recovery workers at the ground zero museum's dedication ceremony.

"Like the great wall and bedrock that embrace us today, nothing can ever break us. Nothing can change who we are as Americans."

After viewing some of the exhibits, including a mangled fire truck and a memorial wall with photos of victims, the president touched on some of the many stories of courage amid the chaos: the passengers who stormed a hijacked plane's cockpit over a Pennsylvania field and first responders who rushed into the burning twin towers. He also honored military members "who have served with honor in more than a decade of war."

He focused especially on the story of Welles Crowther, a 24-year-old World Trade Center worker and former volunteer firefighter who became known as "the man in the red bandanna" after he led other workers to safety from the trade center's stricken south tower. He died in the tower's collapse.

One of the red bandannas he made a habit of carrying is in the museum, and Crowther's mother, Alison, told the audience she hoped it would remind visitors "how people helped each other that day, and that they will be inspired to do the same in ways both big and small. This is the true legacy of Sept. 11."

By her side was Ling Young, one of the people Welles Crowther rescued.

"It was very hard for me to come here today," but she wanted to thank his parents, she said.

Before the ceremony, Obama walked quietly through an expansive hall with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. First lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton following behind them.

The museum, which commemorates the 2001 terrorist attack, as well as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, opens to the public on May 21.

Reflections from dignitaries - including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, current New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani - were interspersed with the voices of everyday people caught up in Sept. 11.

Retired Fire Department Lt. Mickey Cross described being trapped for hours in the wreckage of the north tower - and then joining the recovery effort after being rescued. "There was a real sense of caring for each other," he said.

Ada Dolch, a school principal whose sister died at the trade center, recalled turning her grief into inspiration to open a school in Afghanistan. "What a kick in the head to Osama bin Laden!" she said.

Kayla Bergeron remembered walking down 68 flights of stairs in the north tower, amid confusion and fear that there was no way out. Her final steps to safety were on an outdoor stairway, now in the museum as the "survivors' stairs."

"Today, when I think about those stairs, what they represent to me is resiliency," she said.

By turns chilling and heartbreaking, the ground zero museum leads people on an unsettling journey through the terrorist attacks, with forays into their lead up and legacy.

There are scenes of horror, including videos of the skyscrapers collapsing and people falling from them. But there also are symbols of heroism, ranging from damaged fire trucks to the wristwatch of one of the airline passengers who confronted the hijackers.

The museum and memorial plaza above, which opened in 2011, were built for $700 million in donations and tax dollars.

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