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Memories, Public and Personal

Anniversary: Americans will mark a solemn date in many different ways, times and places.


WASHINGTON — Even those who decline to watch the inevitable replay of planes barreling into buildings will have a hard time forgetting what day it is Wednesday.

Sept. 11 will stare back from the face of a wristwatch, the page of a calendar, the bottom of the computer screen, the top of the morning newspaper--an anniversary demanding recognition from a country not quite sure how to give it. And there will be little rhyme or reason to how most people choose to remember a date few had the chance to forget.

An eternal flame will light in New York, bells will peal in Alaska, porch lights will burn in Kansas. Some neighbors in a suburb of Washington will march in a makeshift parade; in Orlando, Fla., they'll gather with candles at dusk on their front lawns. San Franciscans will line up to give blood. SWAT teams in Indiana will demonstrate their public safety prowess. Buses and trains will run with headlights on in Atlanta; Houston; San Mateo; Charlotte, N.C.; and Spokane, Wash. Firetrucks will blow their horns in Waco, Texas. In Honolulu, thousands of children will spell "Aloha 9/11" on a stadium field. And all over the country, pulpits will stir with words of comfort.

"Most anniversaries have a culturally relevant tradition that tells us the right way to do it--a visit to a grave, a cake for a birthday--and not a tremendous amount of innovation is required," said Paul Ofman, a New York psychologist at RHR International, a management consulting firm. "Here we have no tradition, nothing to hold on to. As a nation, we'll have to figure out what works."

Honoring Sept. 11 is a national duty that came with no set of instructions; a collective bowing of heads with no director. The observances will move haphazardly through the day, much as the tragedy did, with the ceremonies most sweeping in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, the sites of destruction.

At 8:46 a.m., about the moment of the first attack, five bagpipe-and-drum processions marching from each of New York's boroughs will arrive at ground zero as the city pauses for a moment of silence. Gov. George Pataki will recite the Gettysburg Address; former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani will lead a reading of the names of the nearly 3,000 who died at the towers. Taps will play.

Although the World Trade Center site will be the focus of the commemoration, virtually none of New York's cultural institutions, houses of worship, fire stations or community organizations intend to pass the day without note. Even Saks Fifth Avenue's flagship store has emptied its windows, leaving only signs that say "We Remember."

In Washington, a day of memorial will begin at the National Cathedral with an 8 a.m. interfaith service led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. A bell will toll at the time of each attack.

But the eyes of the capital will focus on the Pentagon, the point of impact restored by workers who labored around the clock for much of the last year. About 12,000 people, including President Bush--who will fly to New York afterward--and several survivors and kin of victims are expected to turn out for a moment of silence at 9:37 a.m., about the time the plane struck. The huge flag that hung over the building's wounds that day will be reinstalled at the same spot.

In Pennsylvania, as many as 50,000 are expected at a memorial for United Flight 93's passengers, whose rebellion probably foiled an attack on a fourth building. White House staffers, who believe that plane may have been headed their way, intend to gather on the mansion's lawn in special tribute.

Surely, the day will be hardest for survivors and relatives of those who perished. Though some planned to return to the sites, others cannot stay far enough away. Among those who will be present at the Pentagon is Wayne Sinclair, 55, who installs computers for the Army and who was severely burned that day.

"Sometimes, I've found it's better to discuss this and get it off your mind," he said. "But some people can't. Too many hard memories. Several say they are staying home, not going to work or anything. They just want to be by themselves and kind of sit and relax and don't think about the day."

But it will be difficult not to. Television coverage will continue round-the-clock. The memorials will stretch through the week with displays of acknowledgment so eclectic that from afar, it might look like the Fourth of July.

Singers Roberta Flack and Randy Travis will perform at Constitution Hall. An enormous flag will cover the U.S. Capitol lawn. Three blocks from the White House, a candlelight vigil will fill Freedom Plaza. Fireworks will light the sky in Des Moines. An American bald eagle named Freedom--once injured but nursed back to health--will be released into the wilds of Missouri. Corporations in Chicago will suspend their dress codes so employees can wear red, white and blue.

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