WASHINGTON, Sept. 11 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama on Friday observed the 14th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks by leading a national moment of silence in the morning, followed by a series of notable visits with members of the armed forces.
About 200 guests gathered with the president on the White House's South Lawn, including Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and National Security Adviser Susan Rice. A lone trumpet played "Taps" as military color guard stood at attention.
Following the ceremony, Obama delivered remarks at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum -- and later at a town hall meeting in Fort Meade, Md.
"Sacha, my youngest daughter, had just been born [in June]," Obama said at the town hall event, when asked to recall the morning of the attacks, which occurred while he was an Illinois state senator. "September 11th was Malia's first day of kindergarten ... They were tiny."
"I was going to downtown Chicago to a hearing, and I remember driving on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago and hearing [radio] reports of a plane crashing into the buildings," he continued. "At first, the reports were unclear so you thought it was a Cessna or some accident had happened. And it wasn't until I got downtown ... that we started realizing it was something much more serious."
Obama said he was scheduled to attend a hearing, but his building was evacuated once the true nature of the attacks became clear. Other skyscrapers and landmarks across the United States -- such as Los Angeles' Wilshire Tower and San Francisco's TransAmerica Pyramid -- were also evacuated as a precaution while the attacks were still in progress.
"I remember standing in downtown Chicago with thousands of other people. And there were a lot of targets, obviously ... including the [former] Sears Tower. And people didn't know what to think," he said. "I remember going to my law office and that's when we saw the images of the Twin Towers starting to come down."
The president said although he did not agree with some of the decisions made by former President George W. Bush, he felt the former commander-in-chief performed well in the days following the attacks.
"I give great credit to President Bush for being at [Ground Zero], throwing out that first pitch at Yankee Stadium and everyone remembering that you're not a Democrat first or a Republican first or a Texan first or a Californian first -- you're an American," he said. "And we all had to come together."
Obama took questions from servicemen and women while at Fort Meade, during which he emphasized the importance of fighting the War on Terror and aggressively safeguarding national security.
Friday, thousands gathered at the September 11th Memorial in Lower Manhattan to reflect. Family and friends of victims visited the Memorial Plaza for a private ceremony, where the names of each of the nearly 3,000 victims were read. A public ceremony was held later Friday.
"It gave you a sense, for the first time in my lifetime, that our homeland can be vulnerable in that way. We hadn't seen an attack like that since Pearl Harbor," Obama said. "It inspired all of us to remember just how precious what we have is -- and the need for us to defend it at any cost."
During the New York ceremony, the bells at nearby St. Paul's Chapel rang a 15-minute pattern of "four fives" -- five strikes repeated four times -- a custom that gives final honors to fallen firefighters.
Memorials were also held at the other targets hit on 9/11 -- the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., and a rural community near Pittsburgh where the final hijacked airliner went down. That plane, United Airlines Flight 93, crashed into a field after a passenger revolt thwarted the terrorists' plans to either fly it into the White House or the U.S. Capitol.
Vice President Joe Biden joined Obama at the 9/11 Memorial Motorcycle Ride Kickoff event at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in New York City.
All major memorials commemorating 9/11 have been completed at various sites in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania and the new World Trade Center complex is nearing completion. The 1,776-foot tall World Trade Center One, also known as the Freedom Tower, was completed earlier this year -- almost 15 years following the previous towers' destruction.
"My hope is always that on a day like today that we remember that sense that what binds us together is much more important than anything that divides us," Obama said. "We all come from different places, but we all have a shared creed -- a shared belief system and a shared set of commitments."