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A New York Tribute to Each Life Lost

Memories are personal and painful as survivors call victims' names and voice a nation's grief.

September 12, 2006|Ellen Barry | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Their voices ragged with sadness, spouses and companions of those killed here on Sept. 11 called out their names Monday to mark the fifth anniversary of the attack. Their messages were sweet and ordinary: Our son loves you to Pluto and back. We catch glimpses of you in your beautiful daughter. Lucy died in April. I love you, baby. Save a spot for me.

The fire station bell clanged out at 8:46, 9:03, 9:50 and 10:29 a.m. to mark the moments the planes hit the two World Trade Center towers and the moments each tower fell. Families filed down a ramp that took them seven stories underground, where they could touch the earth that lay below the buildings. For more than three hours, a quiet crowd listened to the roll call of the 2,749 dead.

In past years, the names have been read by siblings, children and parents of the dead. This year, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg called on husbands, wives and significant others to read the list, "not in the first flush of despair, but with the saving grace of memory."

"Five years have come and five years have gone, and still we stand together as one," he said. "We come back to this place to remember the heartbreaking anniversary and each person who died here -- those known and unknown to us, whose absence is always with us."

People paid their respects all over America on Monday, marking an event that made the fight against terrorism a national priority and led to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Mourners gathered in the field near Shanksville, Pa., where United Flight 93 careened to Earth. A visibly moved Vice President Dick Cheney led a memorial for victims' families at the Pentagon, where 184 people died. Firefighters in Akron, Ohio, sounded their sirens for 30 seconds in remembrance. At public buildings from Tennessee to Indiana to Colorado, flags were lowered to half-staff.

For the people at ground zero, however, the losses were intimate.

Douglas Hersh was remembering his younger brother, Alan Palumbo -- the way he stopped using profanity overnight during his teens, the way he would never eat both ends of a hot dog, only one. Toni Gomez, who lost her cousin, Diana O'Connor, said she was concerned for Diana's young daughter, who became so fearful after the attacks that she used to hide her father's shoes so he would not leave her.

Asked how she was five years out, Catherine Coughlan looked numb. "This is as bad as the first day," said Coughlan, whose husband, Martin, a carpenter, was working that morning on the 92nd floor of the south tower. The family held a second burial service last year, when additional bits of his body were identified.

Evelyn Stone, whose 43-year-old son, Lonny, was killed, said she has watched other family members resume normal lives but is certain she will not do so. Her son's death, she said, "is a nightmare that you never wake up from."

"I don't think it will ever go away," she said. "It's not in the order of things."

One after the other, husbands and wives stepped to the microphone to address the dead. James Smith wanted to tell his wife, Moira, a police officer, that he was "honored to be her husband," and grateful to be able to raise their daughter, a grave-looking little girl wearing ruffled ankle socks. If she were still alive, he said, "Moira would be about the business of living."

Carmen Suarez's voice cracked as she remembered her husband, police officer Ramon Suarez. "If I could build a staircase to heaven, I would, so I could quickly run up there to have you back in my arms," she said.

If the mood was somber inside the high fence surrounding ground zero, it was chaotic outside -- where protesters mingled with tourists and victims' family members.

Rick Kowalko, a retiree from Connecticut, had brought his horse, Melody, to the site, saddled up but riderless, with boots turned backward in the stirrups. A 51-year-old Cuban emigre, Raoul Moreno, was waving a sign that read, "When the Left Says Peace They Mean Surrender" and shouting at a crowd that formed around him. Dozens of people wore T-shirts declaring the attacks a government conspiracy.

Tara Blessing, whose brother was killed Sept. 11, stepped into the fray, tears running down her face. "All of you guys shut up about this political stuff," said Blessing, 28, who had traveled to New York from her home in Kentucky for the anniversary. "It's not about whose fault it is."

Quiet memorials could be found all over the city Monday. The New-York Historical Society, housed in a stately building on Central Park West, offered "Elegy in the Dust," a display of clothing that had been for sale that morning in a shop across from ground zero. It is on display through January.

The exhibit is an eerie sight: Feathery dust, as fine as confectioners' sugar, came to rest on the rim of each wire hanger and between the cables of turtleneck sweaters. Stacks of colored T-shirts turned a uniform mousy gray. On the floor are shreds of paper that fluttered down from the offices above.

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