NEW YORK - President Barack Obama on Thursday dedicated the long-delayed National September 11 Memorial Museum marking the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the city with a stirring tribute in the memory of those who lost their lives.
Standing at what was once the base of the majestic the Twin Towers, President Obama told New York and the nation Thursday, "No act of terror can match the strength or the character of our country. Like the great wall and bedrock that embrace us today, nothing can ever break us. Nothing can change who we are as Americans."
In a message to those who lost their loved ones in the tragedy, Obama said that "those we lost live on within us."
"We come together," Obama said. "We stand at the footprint of two mighty towers. We can look at their names, hear their voices."
He spoke after going around the museum along with First Lady Michelle Obama. They viewed the memorial wall with the photos of the nearly 3,000 victims.
They viewed a mangled fire truck and chilling videos of the twin towers collapsing in a ball of dust.
The dedication ceremony was attended by current and former politicians, including former President Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; former New York Mayors Michael Bloomberg, David Dinkins, and Rudolph Giuliani; current Mayor Bill de Blasio; and Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Andrew Cuomo of New York.
Surrounded by the mangled and graffiti-inscribed steel remains of New York's twin towers, the president and the other guests vowed never to forget.
Obama told those gathered it was a "sacred place of healing and of hope".
The museum includes thousands of personal items and parts of the World Trade Center towers themselves.
Nearly 3,000 people were killed 11 September 2001 after al-Qaeda hijackers flew aeroplanes into the towers. Another hijacked plane hit the Pentagon. A fourth crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after passengers fought with the hijackers.
Speakers recounted stories of random acts of kindness and courage that marked the terror-struck day, of firefighters who died climbing up stairs to save lives, of a young man named Welles Crowther who emerged from the smoke wearing a red bandana and calmly led survivors to the stairs in one of the towers.
"They didn't know his name," Obama said. "They didn't know where he came from but they knew their lives had been saved by the man in the red bandana."
The museum has been plagued by delays for months, with local officials clashing over who will shoulder the cost. Museum representatives have stated that the entire project costs about $700 million and that its operations will be about $63 million.
The museum site has relied largely on private donations. An entry fee of $24 general admission fee is to be charged. The memorial portion of the site opened in 2011 on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks
Crowther, a 24-year-old financial professional, is credited with saving many lives before he died in the World Trade Center attacks.
The museum features artifacts from the 2001 attacks, including fragments of the airplanes used to take down the Twin Towers. The museum was designed by the architecture firm Snohetta.
In his opening remarks at the ceremony, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the museum was "a reminder to us and all future generations that freedom carries heavy responsibilities".
President Obama said the museum means we can all "look into the faces of nearly 3,000 innocent souls".
"We can touch their names and hear their voices, glimpse the small items that speak of the beauty of their lives - a wedding ring, a dusty helmet, a shining badge," he told those gathered.
Outside, flags were at half-staff on the memorial plaza where bronze panels bear the names of those who perished in New York, Northern Virginia and Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, and in the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.
Singer LaChanze whose husband died in the World Trade Center attacks sang Amazing Grace, in tribute to her husband who had worked at Cantor Fitzgerald.
The event was held in the museum's Foundation Hall, 70 feet beneath ground level, at bedrock, with around 700 invited guests attending.
The museum, which will be fully open to the public on 21 May, features dramatic and horrific moments of the day in videos, including the two skyscrapers collapsing, but also symbols of heroism, such as damaged fire trucks and the wristwatch of one of the passengers who confronted the hijackers.