NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — With the solemn toll of a bell and a moment of silence, the nation paused Thursday to mark the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Family and friends of those who died read the names of the nearly 3,000 people killed in New York, at the Pentagon and near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
As the Honor Guard arrived, the only sound was the rush of water from the memorial pools where the towers stood until 13 years ago.
Gone were the musical ensembles, poems and speeches of years past, with the commemoration reduced to its essence – the tolling of bells to mark the significant moments along the painful timeline and the names of the dead.
The sad roll call paused six times: to mark the moments when the first plane struck the World Trade Center, when the second plane struck, when the first tower fell, when the second tower fell, when the third plane struck the Pentagon and when the fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania.
Joanne Barbara, whose husband of 30 years Gerard Barbara, was a FDNY captain who died, urged all to feel for not only the lost but “those who continue to suffer from the aftermath.”
“May God bless America, and may we never, never forget,” she said.
As family members spoke, there were tears, of course, but there were smiles as well – and even a laughter in the form of a joke among sisters.
“I pay tribute to you by wearing your godawful green Converses today with the tacky yellow shoelaces,” one woman said. “I know somewhere you’re having a good laugh.”
A son also paid tribute to his mother.
“Your crazy spirit lives over us, Ma,” the man said.
More and more, there are people too young to remember the day clearly – becoming familiar with the annual ritual of grief. Two nephews spoke to lost uncles.
“I never got the chance to meet you, but you’ll always be in our heart,” one said.
“Even though I really didn’t know you, you will always be family in my heart and I will always love you,” another said. “And in your honor I have decided to serve our country with the United States Marine Corps.”
“Thirteen years ago, I was born on my grandmother’s birthday. She made my mom promise for us to share every birthday together,” one boy said. “We never had the chance to do that, but the gift of me being born on our birthdays is eternal.”
There was more serenity and seeming more acceptance, it seemed. But the pain never fully recedes.
“My only child, my beloved daughter,” a mourner said.
“Daddy we love you. We miss you,” another said.
“I know you would’ve loved to be with me in two weeks to see Jeter’s last game, but I’ll be there for the two of us,” a third said.
“I continue to mourn my fellow twin, my vanquished tower, my beloved baby brother,” a fourth said.
A widow spoke of the grandchildren her husband never met.
“My heart breaks that you are not here to enjoy them,” she said.
And as CBS 2’s Dave Carlin reported, the memorial remained full of people late into the night Thursday.
Under the stars and massive beams of light as the 9/11 Tribute in Light shown overhead, Frank Gotlibowski of Rocky Hill, Connecticut added to the row of flowers on the name of his friend, Jeffrey Donald Bittner, on the memorial.
Bittner was only 26 when he died in the South Tower.
“It’s very touching to me,” Gotlibowski said. “It’s great that the first time in 13 years that I’ve been able to visit the site on the day of the anniversary.”
Whether people had a personal connection or not, the horror of 9/11 was at the top of everyone’s mind.
“I was a little kid when it happened. I’m only 20 years old. But it’s still fresh – I go to school in the area, so it’s definitely, like, something that you think about every time I see the building,” said Justin Miller of Coney Island, Brooklyn.
Little about the annual ceremony at ground zero has changed. But so much around it has.
For the first time, the National September 11 Museum, which includes gut-wrenching artifacts and graphic photos of the attacks, is open on the anniversary.
Fences around the memorial plaza have come down, integrating the sacred site more fully with the streets of Manhattan while completely opening it up to the public and camera-wielding tourists.
And finally, a nearly completed One World Trade Center has risen 1,776 feet above ground zero and will be filled with office workers by this date in 2015, another sign that a page in the city’s history may be turning.