NEW YORK (AP) — Queen Elizabeth II challenged the United Nations to fight global dangers by “waging” peace, then entered ground zero on Tuesday for the first time to honor the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Back in New York after more than three decades, the 84-year-old British monarch turned her eyes toward the future of the World Trade Center: new skyscrapers rising over what was once smoldering debris that had buried loved ones forever.
“We are not here to reminisce,” she told the world body earlier Tuesday. “In tomorrow’s world, we must all work together as hard as ever if we are truly to be United Nations.”
Not even a record high temperature of 102 degrees, accompanied by a heat advisory, kept the monarch from New York’s hallowed ground.
She arrived at the 16-acre site in lower Manhattan late Tuesday afternoon with her husband, Prince Philip. They walked slowly across a wooden walkway that reaches deep over the construction site. Huge cranes hovering overhead were stopped and workers took a break during the queen’s visit.
In silence, Elizabeth laid a wreath of flowers on an iron pedestal near the footprint of the trade center’s south tower. Bowing her head, she gently brushed her gloved hand against the locally grown red peonies, roses, lilies, black-eyed Susans and other summer blossoms.
Then the queen met dozens of family members and first responders who had lost loved ones as the twin towers collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001.
“The queen just was asking me about that day, and how awful it must’ve been,” said Debbie Palmer, whose husband, battalion Fire Chief Orio Palmer, was killed. “She said, ‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything in my life as bad as that. And I said, ‘Let’s hope we never do again.'”
Palmer said of the monarch: “She’s beautiful. She looks like she could be anybody’s grandmother.”
The queen wore a two-piece white, blue and beige print dress with long sleeves and a matching brimmed champagne-colored silk hat with flowers.
While there were “waterfalls coming down my body, there was not a drop of sweat on her face; I don’t think royalty sweats,” joked Nile Berry, 17, son of securities analyst David S. Berry, who died in the south tower, leaving behind three children.
“I think she understood” the significance of meeting victims’ relatives, Nile told The Associated Press, adding that it would take him a while to “digest” that he had met the queen.
Elizabeth left the site in a motorcade to tour the British Garden of Remembrance, built to honor the 67 Britons killed in the attack. She met their families there, joining them for a ceremony.
Tim Rosen, who called himself a “fan of the queen,” was angling for a glimpse of her at the corner of ground zero. “She’s been through a lot,” said the 30-year-old attorney. “She has a certain sense of duty that I like. A very elegant woman.”
“There she is!” Patricia Farmer, a real estate project manager, shouted when she spotted her near the garden. “The one in the blue!”
Farmer, who said she was born in Northern Ireland, called Elizabeth “my queen.”
But not everyone was so enthused. Roman Shusterman held a sign near ground zero that read, “Queen of British Petroleum,” the British company whose rig explosion in Louisiana created the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
“The queen hasn’t said anything about it because she thinks she’s too good for us,” said Shusterman, 28.
Earlier Tuesday, Elizabeth’s familiar formality graced the lectern at the United Nations, where she urged the world body to spearhead an international response to global dangers, while promoting prosperity and dignity for the world’s inhabitants.
“It has perhaps always been the case that the waging of peace is the hardest form of leadership of all,” she said, while praising the U.N. for promoting peace and justice.
Speaking as queen of 16 U.N. member states and head of a commonwealth of 54 countries with a population of nearly 2 billion people, Elizabeth recalled the dramatic changes in the world since she last visited the United Nations in 1957, especially in science, technology and social attitudes.
“In my lifetime, the United Nations has moved from being a high-minded aspiration to being a real force for common good,” Elizabeth told diplomats from the 192 U.N. member states. “That of itself has been a signal achievement.”
But she also praised the U.N.’s aims and values — promoting peace, security and justice; fighting hunger, poverty and disease; and protecting the rights and liberties of every citizen — which have endured.
“For over six decades the United Nations has helped to shape the international response to global dangers,” the queen said. “The challenge now is to continue to show this clear … leadership while not losing sight of your ongoing work to secure the security, prosperity and dignity of our fellow human beings.”
Elizabeth and Prince Philip flew to New York from Canada for the five-hour visit and departed for London from John F. Kennedy International Airport at around 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer and John Heilprin at the United Nations and Marc Beja in New York City contributed to this report.