The nation commemorated the 10th anniversary of 9/11 with moments of silence, reflection on the sacrifices of first responders, and a determination to carry on despite the loss of nearly 3,000 lives.
In New York, cellist Yo-Yo Ma performed a Bach concerto and Paul Simon sang "The Sound of Silence" while family members read the names of their lost loved ones. At the Pentagon, a giant American flag streamed down one wall as honor guards dipped their standards. And, in Shanksville, Pa. where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed when passangers wrestled control of the aircraft from the hijackers, a children’s choir sang and only family members were allowed on the spot where the plane had struck the ground.
But even in places far from the terrible events of that day 10 years ago, communities stopped to remember.
In Ashland, Ore., pop. 22,000 and 3,000 miles from New York, the Ashland Fire & Rescue fire station held a ceremony featuring a 65-pound piece of steel from one of the girders from the destroyed towers.
Even farther away, at Hawaii’s Richardson Field, there was a 5K race to honor fallen New York fireman Stephen Siller who ran from Brooklyn under the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel to the twin towers 10 years ago.
In many communities, local law enforcement agencies and fire departments planned ceremonies to honor those who died. In Des Moines, Iowa, local law enforcement officials planned a one-mile walk to honor those who died on 9/11. One of the Des Moines fire departments planned to sell “Remember” T-shirts with the proceeds going to firefighters and their families who need help.
Many of the events of the day involved volunteers, such as one in New York’s Byrant Park where people using manual typewriters recorded how visitors to the park answered the question, “What would you like the world to remember about 9/11?”
As a backdrop to the effort, 2,753 empty chairs faced south toward the World Trade Center site.
According to the 9/11 Day of Observance, there could be as many as 1 million Americans paying tribute through service. That would include about 2,300 George Washington University freshmen and student leaders who planned to visit 15 sites in the Washington, D.C.-area to work on service projects such as school beautification and environmental cleanup.
Many churches, synagogues and mosques planned programs to help their communities and congregations. For example, West End Collegiate Church in New York planned an afternoon program called “Voices of Hope and Healing.”
“Come. Hear. Reflect. Share. Express. Create,” said a flier about the program.
The ceremonies in New York and Washington were conducted under intense security due to reports late last week of what officials termed a credible and specific but unconfirmed terror threat to detonate some kind of explosive at a bridge or tunnel. New York flooded the city with policemen armed with automatic weapons and set up vehicle checkpoints.
In Washington, police worked 12-hour shifts and planned to tow away unattended vehicles near sensitive areas.
“For months now we’ve been preparing all the agencies, the Department of Homeland Security, the CIA, all of our intelligence folks have been pulling threats, making sure we understood what potential threats could be out there.”
The president asked all Americans to “keep their eyes open” but go about “what you were going to do anyway.”
As of Sunday afternoon there were no reports of any attacks.
Nationally, the television networks focused much of their effort on the New York ceremony. Many of the readings were from the Bible. For example, early in the program, Mr. Obama read the 46th Psalm, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who was mayor during the attacks, read from Ecclesiastes 3: “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens.”
At the same time, some members of the families addressed those at the ceremony. As was clear from the short commentary by Debra Epps, sister of Christopher Epps who worked on the 98th floor of the towers, healing is difficult.
“Not one holiday, birthday has gone by that my four sisters, brother, and I don’t think about him.” But, Ms. Epps said, she has managed to cope with the help of others. “People really do catch you when you fall. Christopher would have really loved knowing that the love he gave to others was given back to us in his name.”
On Monday, the 9/11 Memorial will officially open to the public. The Sunday event was only open to the families and friends of the victims.
As she left the commemoration, Jessica Ramsaroop, who lost her brother Stephen, said she felt the memorial with its waterfalls “was such a peaceful place.”
Despite the peace, Ms. Ramsaroop, who drove to New York from Toronto, said she did not feel as if the memorial provided her with the closure she needs. The body of Mr. Ramsaroop, a Port Authority policeman, was never found.
“If I had a body, I think it would provide me with closure,” she said.
However, families can find the names of their loved ones engraved in metal along the sides of the giant reflecting pools that line the footprint of where the towers used to be. The incised and stenciled name allowed Lenny Jr., the son of fireman Lenny Ragaglia, to use a crayon to trace his dad’s name on a sheet of paper.
“Now, this will have to be our cemetery,” said Debbie, the sister of the fallen firefighter. “For the rest of our lives we will be coming here.”
As she walked away from the memorial, Katie Murphy of Boston said she felt a sense of “serenity” that helps to ease the pain of losing her brother, Charles Murphy, who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald, a Wall Street firm that lost 658 employees.
“I love the movement of the water in the waterfalls,” she said as she walked with four other family members. “The Memorial is calm and serene – something Charlie never was,” she said while the rest of the Murphy clan nodded in agreement. “He loved life.”