Rites of remembrance, great and small

Solemn reading of names calls world's attention to human toll of terrorism

2001 9/11 2002

One Year

September 12, 2002|By Jean Marbella and Marego Athans | Jean Marbella and Marego Athans,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NEW YORK - With silence and a collective pealing of church bells, with a poem read by a now-fatherless girl and the presidential wisdom handed down over the years, the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was marked yesterday on a scale both grand and intimate.

National, local and world leaders converged here in the city where the attacks took their greatest toll and where a series of ceremonies drew on the speeches of Lincoln and FDR and the music of Bach.

And yet, for all the stirring words and notes that filled a day in which commemorations also took place at the other attack sites at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pa., as well as across the country and around the world, what lingered in the mind was simple and yet profound: the naming of names.

At New York's Ground Zero, the names of the 2,801 killed when two hijacked airliners plowed into the World Trade Center's twin towers were recited as part of a morning ceremony, the 2 1/2 hours it took to read them a testament to the vast loss of life.

At the Pentagon, President Bush, who spent the day traveling from site to site, vowed to remember each of the 184 lives lost there.

And in Shanksville, a bell tolled 40 times, once for each victim, and each of their names was read in the moments leading up to the time one year ago when passengers tried to wrest control of their plane from hijackers. It plummeted to an empty field there rather than into its target in Washington.

"They were our neighbors, our husbands, our children, our sisters, our brothers and our wives. They were our countrymen and our friends," New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said, opening the ceremony at the former World Trade Center site. "They were us."

Under tight security, thousands of family members of the victims began arriving at the site in the early morning, some already red-eyed, most clutching photos of their lost loved ones.

For many, particularly those whose relatives vanished suddenly without an identifiable trace, Ground Zero looms large as the place they can feel closest to these missing figures in their lives.

"It was very meaningful to be down there because we haven't found Stacey yet," Fran Sennas said of her daughter, Stacey Sennas McGowan. "We feel part of her is still there."

Sennas and her husband, Semo, were most moved by the part of the ceremony when they and the other family members walked down a ramp six stories into the lowest part of the site, which has long since been cleared of billions of tons of rubble from the devastated towers.

Circle of honor

In a long parade, the family members streamed down, down, down until they reached a round wooden platform called the circle of honor. There, they left mementos - flowers, flags, personal notes and the like - and many lingered a bit, visibly shaken.

The procession was accompanied by a meaningful soundtrack: As classical musicians played gently in the background, a series of speakers began to read the names, the sounds resonating across the cavernous, 16-acre excavated site.

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma played Bach in a soulful, minor key, as former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who became a beloved figure as he led his city through its crisis, took the first batch of names.

In relay fashion, readers who included New York's Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, actor Robert DeNiro and various family members, and others with a connection to the tragedy, continued the drumbeat of the names.

"As we were descending the ramp to put our roses down, that was the exact time his name was read," marveled Angie DiFranco, whose son Donald was the broadcasting engineer who maintained a New York TV station's transmitter in one of the towers. "We just feel he's here."

`Mom misses you'

Some of the family members who read names added a personal note after a name, "I love you" or "Mom misses you." Others were just as glad that their batch of names did not include their own friends or relatives.

"I couldn't have gotten through it," Eileen Esquilin said of the prospect of reading her brother's name, Ruben, to the crowd. "Just walking on the ground that my brother walked that morning ... I feel like Sept. 11, 2001, happened just yesterday, the pain is still that intense."

Wesley Wong, an FBI agent, read some of the W's, none of which included his two close friends killed in the attacks, one of them John O'Neill, the former FBI counter-terrorism expert. Wong and O'Neill served together in the agency's office in Baltimore, which is also Wong's hometown.

Nor did his list include the man he discovered in the rubble when he rushed to the towers in response to the attacks, Mychal Judge, the fire department chaplain.

For Wong, the ceremony was a sad event, but one that underscored how changed he is: "Ever since that day, I've felt very lucky to have survived that horrific day, and I look forward to every day now."

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