By Sam Youngman - 05/05/11 05:33 PM EDT
Days after the killing of the architect of the 9/11 attacks, President Obama on Thursday visited Ground Zero to lay a memorial wreath and pray silently as families of the victims looked on.
Obama’s visit to the former site of the World Trade Center towers, his first as president, was to pay respects, meet with first responders and family members and try to provide what the White House called a "sense of closure" for New Yorkers and the rest of the country.
Earlier in the day, Obama visited the Pride of Midtown firehouse, which lost 15 men, more than any other firehouse in Manhattan.
Obama told the firefighters, who had built a memorial to their fallen comrades, that Osama bin Laden's death sent a message that "when we say we will never forget, we mean what we say."
“This is a symbolic site of the extraordinary sacrifice that was made on that terrible day almost 10 years ago," Obama told the firefighters.
The president acknowledged that killing bin Laden "can't bring back the friends you lost." But he said the raid by U.S. Navy SEALs that killed bin Laden “sent a message around the world, but also sent a message here back home that when we say we will never forget, we mean what we say.”
Obama continued: “That our commitment to making sure that justice is done is something that transcended politics, transcended party; it didn’t matter which administration was in, it didn’t matter who was in charge, we were going to make sure that the perpetrators of that horrible act — that they received justice.”
He said he hoped it would provide some comfort to know, “When those guys took those extraordinary risks going into Pakistan, that they were doing it in part because of the sacrifices that were made in the States. They were doing it in the name of your brothers that were lost.
"You're always going to have a president and an administration who’s got your back," Obama said.
The president was joined by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who ran as a Republican presidential candidate in 2008.
White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Air Force One on the way to New York that the president was visiting Ground Zero in an effort to bring closure to families and first responders who lost relatives and colleagues.
Carney said the president "believes it's appropriate and fitting to travel to New York this week in the wake of the successful mission to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, in order to recognize the terrible loss that New York suffered on 9/11 and to acknowledge the burden that families of the victims and the loved ones of the victims have been carrying with them since 9/11, almost 10 years."
Carney added that the president's trip is "an effort to perhaps help New Yorkers and Americans everywhere to achieve a sense of closure."
Former President George W. Bush declined an invitation from Obama to attend Thursday’s ceremony, saying he wanted to remain out of the spotlight. He will travel to Ground Zero for the 10th anniversary of the attacks in September.