Family members lead somber ceremonies honoring victims
NEW YORK – From the vibrant heart of lower Manhattan to a quiet meadow in Pennsylvania, family members, police officers, firefighters, presidents and ordinary Americans marked the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks with ceremonies that reflected the losses of that day, but that gave the world its first glimpses of the monuments built to keep the victims’ memories alive.
The sky over New York City was clear and blue, as it was a decade earlier when terrorists hijacked four jets that crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Penn. As the sun rose over Manhattan, a crowd gathered inside the former World Trade Center site. Bagpipers, keeping step with the mournful pounding of a drum, took their places on the 9/11 memorial plaza, which opens to the public today.
As in past years, relatives took turns reading the name of each person killed that day in alphabetical order, from Gordan M. Aamoth Jr. to Igor Zukelman, plus the six people killed in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. The youngest was 2: Christine Lee Hanson, who was on United Airlines Flight 175. The oldest was 70, a passenger on United Flight 93 named Patrick Joseph Driscoll.
There were 2,983 names in all, recited by loved ones who sent personal messages to their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, spouses and children as they took turns at the microphones. “We miss … your meatloaf,” said one. “Daddy, I miss you,” said one little girl in shiny red shoes, who needed a step to reach the microphone.
They spoke with accents from all corners of the globe. Children announced births of their own children to the grandparents they would never meet. Teenagers told their dead parents of college and career choices, and of their halting moves into adulthood. “Dad, I’m still learning to cook but I’m working on it,” said one.
President Barack Obama, former President George W. Bush and mayors and governors past and present were among those attending the main ceremony in New York, but they spoke briefly if at all, in keeping with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s vow to make this event one for the families, free from politics.
“Ten years have passed since a perfect blue-sky morning turned into the blackest of nights,” Bloomberg said. “Although we can never un-see what happened here, we can also see that children who lost their parents have grown into young adults, grandchildren have been born, and good works … have taken root.”
With that, at exactly 8:46 a.m., he proclaimed a moment of silence to mark the moment of first impact: the crash of American Airlines Flight 11 into the north tower. Only the rushing of water pouring into reflecting pools where the north and south towers once stood broke the quiet. The pools and waterfalls are the centerpieces of the memorial, which was completed weeks before the ceremony.
Once the recitation of names began, relatives were given their first chance to see the memorial up-close and to touch the bronze parapets ringing the reflecting pools and etched with victims’ names. Many used crayons and pieces of paper to make stencils of their loved one’s names. Others laid flowers, or left notes or photographs. Many stood quietly, while others sobbed openly.
All ran their fingers over and over the letters, as if to touch their lost relatives one more time.
“When you have a loved one who died, you either have a gravestone or you don’t. We don’t, so this is his burial ground,” said Tom Acquaviva, whose son, Paul, died at the World Trade Center.
“I think it’s absolutely beautiful,” said his wife, Jo, who took comfort in knowing that she now has a place to visit her son, who was 29 when he died.
This was Toni Lawrence’s first time at the New York memorial service. Her sister, Barbara Olson, died when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. Before coming to New York for the event, Lawrence said that as a Christian, she had been offended that religious leaders were excluded from the ceremony. Once here, though, she understood.
“Hearing the names of so many diverse people, I now understand that they are not just Christians,” said Lawrence, who cried through most of the reading of names.
“I’m sharing the grief of everyone here,” Lawrence said.
Near Shanksville, Pa., where yellow and orange flowers dotted the field into which United Airlines Flight 93 crashed, Gorden Felt said the grieving was never over. Nor should it be, said Felt, whose brother died on Flight 93.
“Nothing frightens me more than the phrase ‘Time heals all things,’ ” Felt told a crowd that waved flags and wore T-shirts bearing messages of support or pictures of the dead. “Do we … truly want to be fully healed if (that) means complete elimination of the pain that links us to all we lost? Do we want our memories eroded by the passage of time?”
Obama and the first lady, arriving from the New York ceremony, laid a wreath in front of the Wall of Names, etched with the names of the people who died here as passengers battled in the cockpit with the hijackers.
The Obamas spent roughly an hour at the site before flying to Washington, D.C., for the ceremony outside the Pentagon.