WASHINGTON, Sept. 14 -- The eyes of a nation turned to President Bush as American leaders and lawmakers gathered at Washington's National Cathedral to pay tribute to the thousands killed during Tuesday's terrorist attacks that leveled the World Trade Center in New York and part of the Pentagon in Virginia.
"We are here in the middle hour of our grief," Bush said during the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance Service, which came three days after terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners, smashed two into the World Trade Centers in New York and a third into the Pentagon building outside Washington.
A fourth airliner crashed in western Pennsylvania without reaching either the White House or the U.S. Capitol, one of which officials said may have been its intended target. Thousands were killed in the attack.
"We have seen the images of fire and ashes and bent steel. Now come the names, the list of casualties we are only beginning to read, Bush said. "They are the names of men and women who began their day at a desk or in an airport busy with life.
"They are the names of people who faced death and in their last moments called home to say, 'Be brave' and 'I love you.'"
He added: "We will read all these names, we will linger over them and learn their stories, and many Americans will weep."
With a stoic face and shoulders square, Bush arrived at the Cathedral with first lady Laura Bush shortly after 11:30 a.m. to lead the nation in the day of mourning. On Thursday, he asked Americans across the country to take time and go to their local places of worship to reflect on the week's events and find strength in their respective faiths.
He called for noontime memorial services, ringing of bells, and evening candlelight vigils. He also invited people in other countries to join the United States in its collective grief.
"To the children and parents and spouses and families and friends of the lost, we offer the deepest sympathy of the nation," Bush said. "And I assure you, you are not alone."
He said "our national character" had been shown by rescuers who worked past exhaustion and in "eloquent acts of sacrifice," referring to people helping each other escape the smoky burning buildings.
At the same time he sought to comfort the country, Bush voiced his resolve to deal severely with those responsible for the attacks.
"This conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others," he said. "It will end in a way and at an hour of our choosing."
When Bush returned to his seat next to the first lady, his father, former President George H.W. Bush, reached over and touched his hand in affection and support.
The Rev. Billy Graham, one of the nation's leading evangelists, said the spirit of the nation would not be defeated by the attack.
"Today, we say to those who masterminded this cruel plot and to those who carried it out that the spirit of this nation will not be defeated by their twisted and diabolical schemes," he said. "Someday those responsible will be brought to justice, as President Bush and our Congress have so forcefully stated.
"But today we especially come together in this service to confess our need of God."
The service opened at noon under gray rainy skies with solemn pageantry and sacred music and four of the five surviving former U.S. presidents -- Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and Bush, attended. Seats were filled in the cavernous sanctuary that sits atop Mount Albans.
Among the hundreds of people attending the emotionally charged service were Secretary of State Colin Powell; Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman; Interior Secretary Gail Norton; Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.; Sen. Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.; former Defense Secretary William Cohen; New York Sen. Hillary Rodman Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea.
The service was not open to the public for space and security reasons, church officials said.NEWLN: