Water, emotions flow at Ground Zero memorial
At observances at Ground Zero, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa., the nation and families whose grief was deeply personal observed the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, which included the opening of the memorial plaza where the twin towers once stood.
In the days after the 9/11 attacks, all of New York seemed to become a shrine to the dead. People left heaps of flowers in front of fire stations. They lit candles. They hung photographs of the missing. Now, at last, there is a permanent memorial to the victims.
Dennis Baxter saw it for the first time Sunday, along with hundreds of other people who lost a relative on 9/11. His brother, Joseph, died in the World Trade Center's south tower. Baxter found his name inscribed in bronze on the low wall surrounding the enormous fountain and reflecting pool where the tower once stood.
"It was real inspirational to come here after all these years and finally see his name," said Baxter, 65, of King of Prussia, Pa. "I touched it. ... I didn't know what to do. It was really moving."
The tree-covered memorial plaza at Ground Zero opened to the families of the victims for the first time Sunday, on the 10th anniversary of the attacks.
In the exact footprints of the two towers was a stately memorial: two great, weeping waterfalls, surrounded by bronze parapets etched with names of all 9/11 victims.
Some of the relatives were dressed in funereal suits and others in fire-department T-shirts. Many left flowers. Some stuck small flags in the recesses created by each letter. Others made paper rubbings of the names, or simply stood and wept, as the sound of the roaring waterfalls in each fountain washed over them.
Debra Burlingame, whose brother, Charles, was the pilot of American Airlines Flight 77 that hit the Pentagon, cried when she found his name on the memorial, grouped with other crew and passengers.
"These are all his crew," she said. "I know all their families. These passengers, I knew their families. These people are real people to me. It's very touching to see all these people here together."
In another memorial ceremony Sunday, at the Pentagon, Vice President Joseph Biden told the families of the 184 men, women and children killed there a decade ago that "I know what it's like to receive that call out of the blue that the dearest thing in your life is gone."
Biden, who was referring to when his wife and infant daughter were killed in a car crash in 1972, presided over the service commemorating the horrific morning when Flight 77 crashed into the seemingly impregnable headquarters of the world's most powerful military.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the crowd that "no words can ease the pain you still feel." He said the country would never forget the human cost paid by this generation, including "the more than 6,200 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines lost in the line of duty" since 9/11.
The west side of the Pentagon has long since been repaired, and a memorial to the victims opened three years ago: nearly 2 acres outdoors with 184 benches, each inscribed with the name of a victim, shaded by 85 paperbark-maple trees.
In Shanksville, Pa., a choir sang at the Flight 93 National Memorial, and a crowd of 5,000 listened to a reading of the names of 40 passengers and crew killed aboard the fourth hijacked jetliner. President Obama and his wife traveled to the Pennsylvania town after visiting New York and placed a wreath at the memorial.
During the president's visit, members of the crowd chanted, "USA! USA!" One man called out: "Thanks for getting bin Laden!" It was the first anniversary observance since al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in May.
At Ground Zero earlier in the day, as in past years, relatives read the name of each person killed in New York, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania, plus the six people killed in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
There were 2,983 names in all, recited by loved ones who sent messages to their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, spouses and children. "We miss ... your meatloaf," said one. "Daddy, I miss you," said a girl in shiny red shoes, who needed a step to reach the microphone.
Children announced births of their own children to the grandparents who would never hold them. Teenagers told their dead parents of college and career choices, and of their halting moves into adulthood. "Dad, I'm still learning to cook but I'm working on it," said one.
Obama, standing behind bulletproof glass and in front of the oak trees of the memorial, read a Bible passage after a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., when the first jetliner slammed into the north tower 10 years ago.
The president, quoting Psalm 46, invoked the presence of God as an inspiration to endure: "Therefore, we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea."
Obama and former President George W. Bush, joined by their wives, walked up to one of the pools and put their hands to some of the names. Bush later read from a letter that Abraham Lincoln wrote to a mother believed to have lost five sons in the Civil War: "I pray that our heavenly father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement."
Paul Schlehr, of Cincinnati, whose sister-in-law, Margaret Seeliger, died in the south tower, said he was amazed by the memorial, which occupies an 8-acre plaza and is ringed by new skyscrapers under construction. Each of the memorial pools is an acre in size, and the waterfalls that plunge into the pits drop 30 feet.
"The size of it all is kind of breathtaking," he said.
As they walked the grounds, family members expressed sorrow, but some joy and life, too. Some smiled for family photos. Children ran on the grass. A parent changed a diaper.
Work on the memorial is ongoing. An underground section and museum won't open until next year. A little less than half of the 420 oak trees that will shade the plaza have yet to be planted.
At the south-tower pool, Mary Dwyer, of Brooklyn, remembered her sister, Lucy Fishman, who worked for an insurance company that occupied seven floors near the very top.
"It's the closest I'll ever get to her again," she said.
Elsewhere in the nation, it was a day not to bring life to a stop, as it was 10 years ago, but to pause and reflect.
Outside FedEx Field in Landover, Md., fans got ready for the first Sunday of the NFL season, the Redskins and Giants. There was extra security at the stadium. Scott Millar, a Redskins season ticket-holder, used the logic of post-Sept. 11 America in deciding to go to the game.
"You've got to trust the security. You've got to trust the people who are here to protect you," he said.
In southwest Missouri, where 160 people died in May in the nation's deadliest tornado in six decades, New York firefighters and Ground Zero construction workers joined survivors in a tribute to the victims of Sept. 11.
The New York contingent brought a 20-by-30-foot American flag recovered a decade ago from a building near the trade center. Survivors of a Greensburg, Kan., tornado began repairing the flag in 2008, using remnants of flags from their town. The final stitches are being made in Joplin, Mo., then the flag will go to the National 9/11 Memorial Museum.
Missouri is the last stop on a 50-state tour to promote national unity and volunteerism.
"We're so far away from the World Trade Center," said one woman who brought her mother and two children to the Joplin tribute. "But it doesn't matter how far away you are."
Information from the Los Angeles Times is included in this report.
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