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A Year After

'Every Day Has Felt Like Sept. 11' for Loved Ones

September 12, 2002|JOSH GETLIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — They came in groups, clinging to each other, but some grieved alone. A few pushed aging parents in wheelchairs and some had babies in strollers. They all stood in silence Wednesday as the wind blew dust in their faces, waiting to hear a name read that--for each--was like a knife in the heart.

"I didn't know if I would come today," said Deborah Garcia, noting that the anniversary of her husband's death was only going to aggravate a wound that might never heal. "To me, every day has felt like Sept. 11."

On a morning when New York wept and remembered--and the keen of bagpipes was heard in the streets at 4:30 a.m.--thousands of grieving family members converged on the site of the former World Trade Center. They stood in silence under a blazing sun as the names of all 2,801 people missing and dead in the terrorist attacks were read aloud.

The names were recited crisply, with virtually no interruption, and it took more than two hours to finish the list. As the readings continued, mourners quietly placed flowers and other memorials to loved ones on the grounds of the dusty pit, which is all that remains of the twin towers.

"They were our neighbors, our husbands, our children, our sisters, our brothers and our wives," New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said after the names were read. "They were our countrymen and our friends. They were us."

Although New York held a multitude of memorial services marking the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the ground zero ceremonies were poignant because they featured one of the largest single gatherings of victims' families in public. The sheer number of them--thousands packed in front of a stage and an equal number jammed onto a nearby highway--testified to the savage loss of life at the World Trade Center and its effect on so many people.

An Eerie Stillness

But raw emotions also spilled into the busy streets next to ground zero. A year ago, the neighborhood was filled with choking dust and falling debris, with the sounds of wailing sirens and thousands fleeing for their lives. It was far quieter Wednesday, even eerily silent, as crowds gathered to watch or simply ponder the sad ceremony unfolding several blocks away.

"I've never seen so much pain in one place," said Phil Crosson, mourning the loss of his daughter's fiance. "A lot of us still can't accept it."

The ceremonies paused to mark four moments: 8:46 a.m., when the first plane hit the north tower; 9:03 a.m., when the second plane struck; 9:59 a.m., when the south tower fell, and 10:30 a.m., when the north tower collapsed.

Later in the day, President Bush bowed his head before a wreath at the site and New York concluded its official ground zero events with the lighting of an eternal flame in nearby Battery Park City, honoring all those who were lost.

A host of dignitaries participated in the low-key but moving ceremonies, including New York Gov. George Pataki, New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. Former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, forgoing any remarks, read the first 43 names on the long list of Sept. 11 victims.

As they assembled in front of a dais near the site, family members held pictures of loved ones with handwritten notes like "Remember Me" scrawled on the top. Others wore T-shirts commemorating victims' lives, hugged each other and released balloons when their names were read.

"Everybody you see has a hole in their heart," said Kit Mak, mourning the death of her sister, Yuk-Ping Wong, 47. "We knew this was a special event, so we came, even though my parents couldn't bear to be here."

Standing nearby and clutching six roses, Garcia said she still hasn't come to terms with the death of her husband, David, let alone the idea that a year has passed. The only reason she decided to come, she confessed, is that it gave her yet another opportunity to say goodbye where he had died.

"He used to give me these all of the time," she said, pointing to the flowers in her hands. "So I came here today to give one back to him."

One block away, people who went to work in busy office buildings, just as they did a year ago, were moved by the pageantry. Many stood to listen to the sounds of names being read.

Others ducked out of buildings to gaze at the space where the towers stood and to mark a painful anniversary.

"Just showing my respects," said Courtney Barnard, 38, who works near the trade center site and paused at 8:46 a.m. "All these people here knew someone," pointing to a crowd gathered on the sidewalk and adding that he knew 10 traders who perished at Windows on the World, the 107th-floor restaurant.

Up-Close View of Terror

Nearby, several window washers gathered for their morning break, and they couldn't help but remember the pandemonium in the streets one year before.

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