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Young Voices, Survivors' Grief Mark a Solemn Anniversary

September 12, 2003|Josh Getlin and Faye Fiore | Times Staff Writers

NEW YORK — America marked the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks Thursday with a poignant ceremony at ground zero, where 200 children who lost parents and other relatives read the names of all 2,792 victims who died there.

Heartbreaking messages like "I love you, Daddy" echoed through the site on a warm, cloudless day that was eerily like the morning two years ago when terrorists struck the nation.

In Washington, President Bush led a moment of silence on the South Lawn of the White House at 8:46 a.m., marking the instant the first hijacked plane hit the World Trade Center. Other ceremonies honored the 184 lost in the attack on the Pentagon and the 40 on the airplane that crashed near Shanksville, Pa.

"We remember the lives lost," Bush said. "We remember the heroic deeds. We remember the compassion, the decency of our fellow citizens on that terrible day."

Elsewhere, Southern California communities and cities from Boston to Seattle marked the occasion with solemn speeches, public vigils, memorial dedications and moments of quiet contemplation.

Although this year's Sept. 11 observances were generally less elaborate than the first anniversary, they did not lack for emotion.

"I came here because I wanted to celebrate my sister's life, but it's hard, because the wound is still painful," said Michael Smith, a Staten Island carpenter, who came to ground zero with seven other family members to hear the name of his sister, Joann Tabeek, read over the loudspeaker system.

"I'm trying to keep it together," he said, "but after this is over, I'm going to the cemetery, and when that's over I'm going to need a beer."

As he spoke, pairs of children marched to a podium several feet from the pit of ground zero, each reading about 15 names, which included a parent or other relative. Some blew kisses to loved ones when they read the names. Others choked back tears.

"It wasn't great being up there, but I think it was good for me to do it," a downcast Craig Flickinger said. He and his twin 12-year-old brother, Carl, said, "We love you, Dad," after they read 15 names, and then left the stage.

Many family members walked into the concrete pit at ground zero, where they left flowers in two reflecting pools representing the twin towers; some also took samples of dust and rock to remember the place where their family members died.

Midway through the nearly three-hour ceremony, Ehtesham Raja consoled six members of his family, who had flown from Pakistan to commemorate the death of his son Aftab, a 27-year-old computer specialist who died in the north tower.

"I never thought in my wildest dreams we would be standing here on a day like this," said the distraught father, hugging his wife and children and gesturing at the crowds.

"My son loved New York, he loved America," he added. "We thought he was safe here."

The reading of the names was interrupted only by the ringing of four bells marking the moments of each plane's impact and the collapse of the towers. On a day dominated by children's voices and survivors' grief, the handful of officials who spoke confined themselves to quoting great leaders or reading from appropriate poems.

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who briefly introduced the ceremonies, read from the Sept. 11-themed poem "The Names," by outgoing U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins: "Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,/The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.... So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart."

Tribute in Light

In the evening, officials honored New York victims with the Twin Towers of Light, two massive beams of light symbolizing the fallen buildings, in a special ceremony at Battery Park City.

In Washington, the anniversary was marked across the city with sermon, ceremony and prayer, even as an 8-foot fence went up around the Washington Monument, an example of the fortification that has prevailed since the attacks. As they honored the dead, administration officials spoke of the nation's military conflicts.

At the patched and rebuilt Pentagon, uniformed officers paused to watch television broadcasts of a new videotape purported to be of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his chief lieutenant. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz told the Fox television network that it sounds as if the tape's editors "were stapling some old news and new news" together "in a pretty crude way." Even so, the tape altered the focus of the second anniversary from one of remembrance to one of renewed purpose, a senior defense official said.

As he laid a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld recalled Bush's vow that the attackers would hear from the United States. Rumsfeld urged support for the administration's war on terrorism, saying, "They did hear from us, and the fight for freedom continues, because we know that if we do not fight the terrorists over there in Iraq, in Afghanistan and across the world, then we will have to face them here."

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