NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Firefighters from across the country crowded the sidewalks around St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York on Saturday for a memorial service for their brethren killed in the 9/11 attacks, wearing their uniforms and saluting as 343 flags carried by an honor guard passed, one for each firefighter who died.
Chris Pace, 41, came from Las Vegas with 20 other members of his fire company. They stood on Fifth Avenue in black dress uniforms — all had paid their own way.
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“We came here to let these guys know we haven’t forgotten about them, 10 years later,” Pace said. “If it had happened in our city, we would have run into that building, too. And they would have been here for us now.”
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The nation’s largest fire department was holding the service the day before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The crowd fell silent as the huge honor guard marched down Fifth Avenue and into the church.
During the service, a bespectacled Patrick Lyons, nearly 10 years old, spoke steadily and strongly about his father, Lt. Patrick Lyons of Squad 252 in Brooklyn, who died before he was born.
“Dear Dad: I just missed meeting you. … I want you to know that Mommy is doing a great job of raising me,” he said. “I know you are in heaven and always watching over me. I love knowing you are a hero. I wish I could have met you.”
The FDNY is stronger and better now, said Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano, who was an assistant chief during the attack. He spoke of the tragedy of those who were sickened after working at ground zero.
“The world may have called them brave, but we just call it doing our jobs,” he said. “They died doing what they joined the fire department to do: helping others.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg praised the courage of the department, which has about 14,000 uniformed members.
“In the FDNY, our city is lucky to have a group of men and women who can overcome natural fear to serve others,” he said.
The ceremony was one of many public and private events around the city held ahead of the anniversary.
Families, friends and strangers clasped hands as a bell clanged at 8:46 a.m. to signify the time the first hijacked plane crashed into the World Trade Center’s North Tower. The group formed a single-file line that snaked along the southern tip of Manhattan and through an exhibition of American flags, displayed to honor the dead. Participants wore white T-shirts with light blue image of the towers and the phrase “hand-in-hand, remembering 9/11.”
Manhattan resident Dino Fusco brought his two daughters to the event. The 45-year-old father says it’s important for them to pay their respects and to learn about the country’s history, even when it’s sad.
“We lost friends, we felt the loss of the city,” he said. “So we don’t want to forget. It’s important to mark the day.”
Valeria Washington and Annette Englert had never met before but clasped hands when the bells clanged.
“It’s interesting to see all the kids here, and I wonder how it’s affected them,” Washington said, her 11-year-old son, Quincy, next to her. “My son was 1 and I know he views this differently than I do.”
Englert is from Germany and is living in Tribeca for a few years while her husband works on Wall Street. She said she wanted to grieve for the victims and marveled at the resilience of New Yorkers.
Julie Menin, who heads the Community Board of Lower Manhattan and headed the hand-holding event, said she wanted to recall the generosity of the days following the attacks.
The New York Philharmonic was scheduled to give a free performance called “Concert for New York.” Volunteers were using manual typewriters to record how visitors to Midtown’s Bryant Park answered the question “What would you like the world to remember about 9/11?”
A massive American flag was unfurled on the south side of 1 World Trade Center. The 1,776-foot tower is under construction, and the memorial at the site was to open Monday.
The 60- by 90-foot flag typically flies at the George Washington Bridge on major holidays. It’s the world’s largest free-flying American flag, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said.
Another flag was placed at 1 World Trade Center on Friday. That flag will be moved to one of the highest points on the building, which is already 1,000 feet tall and the tallest building in lower Manhattan.
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