New Zealand started global commemorations of the 10th anniversary of September 11 on Sunday as the US Eagles rugby team attended an emotional service just hours ahead of their opening World Cup match against Ireland.
The congregation, many dressed in American and Irish team colours, stood and applauded as the Eagles entered St Andrew's Presbyterian church in New Plymouth for a service filled with reminders of the significance of the commemoration.
Members of the US Marine Corps band performed a stirring rendition of The Star Spangled Banner and joined with local firefighters to escort the United States and New Zealand flags into the church.
The US Ambassador to New Zealand David Heubner said September 11 was a day "to commemorate the triumph of the human spirit" and he made special mention of prominent United States rugby players Mark Bingham and Jeremy Glick who battled hijackers on board United flight 93.
"They broke into the cockpit and crashed the aeroplane into an empty field in Pennsylvania thus averting the destruction of the terrorists' intended target, this planet's iconic symbol of democratic self-determination, the US Capitol building."
No one on board the flight survived, but no one on the ground was harmed.
Heubner told the congregation of several hundred that September 11, 2001, was a rare day "that galvanised the collective hearts and minds of humanity".
The world watched on television "the brutal murders of 3000 humans from 90 different nations, people of all religious beliefs, all political viewpoints, young and old, men and women, gay and straight," he said. "Murdered by those preaching hatred simply to instil a fear and we reacted with near unanimous horror and sorrow."
Prime Minister John Key, who was not at the service, said in a message that September 11 "strengthened international resolve to fight terrorism".
He said the anniversary was particularly poignant in New Zealand because the United States team would be playing Ireland in the Rugby World Cup on the same day.
Eagles scrum-half Mike Petri was at school in Manhattan when hijacked aircraft ploughed into the World Trade Centre and recalled seeing the smoking rubble when he went home.
He said the emotion going into the Ireland match was "going to be intense".
"Watching the heroes running towards the tower to help as people ran away from them is an image that is with you forever.
"I was just lucky when I went home my family were still there. A lot of people I grew up with were not so lucky."
There was a minute's silence before the match on Sunday and both sides wore black armbands.