NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Relatives of Sept. 11 victims marked the anniversary of the terror attacks Friday at the site of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, with grief, gratitude and appeals to keep the toll front of mind after the passage of 14 years.
As CBS2’s Dave Carlin reported, the promise of “never forget” was held in high regard around the area throughout the day and night, from Lower Manhattan to Staten Island and beyond.
Over 1,000 people — fewer than thronged the observance in its early years — gathered for what has become a tradition of tolling bells, moments of silence and the reading of the names of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the terror strikes at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
“We come every year. The crowds get smaller, but we want to be here. As long as I’m breathing, I’ll be here,” said Tom Acquaviva, 81, who lost his son, Paul Acquaviva, a systems analyst who died in the trade center’s north tower.
Sally Regenhard, who lost her firefighter son, Christian, on that day in 2001, told 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck that the pain is as bad as ever.
“Every year basically it’s the same, it means loss and grief,” said Regenhard. “It’s extremely emotional.”
As CBS2’s Lou Young reported, the names were spoken aloud Friday morning beneath skies that seemed to reflect the shifting mood of this somber day – often gunmetal gray, reflecting the finality of the loss so many experienced 14 years ago.
In many ways, the pain remained fresh.
“My son, Anthony Tempesta, who we miss every day,” said Dorothy Tempesta, the mother of a victim as she broke down in tears.
“This day never gets easier no matter how much time has passed,” said Cecilia Cox, the niece of a victim.
“In 14 years, I haven’t stopped thinking of you,” said Mariela Flores, the sister of a victim.
For Nereida Valle, who lost her daughter, Nereida De Jesus, “It’s the same as if it was yesterday. I feel her every day.”
But the sky revealed flashes of hopeful blue as well. There were tears, but with the passage of time, some have found that it is possible to remember and smile.
“My uncle and godfather, Robert Michael Murach — you taught me so much about love and kindness growing up and I miss it every day,” said Cait Murach, the niece of a victim.
Carrying photos emblazoned with the names of their loved ones, victims’ relatives praised first responders, thanked the armed forces and hoped for peace and security: “Pray to our God to keep America safe and give the politicians the knowledge to keep America safe,” said Maria Perez, who lost her son, Anthony Perez.
One woman in the crowd collapsed during the ceremony, apparently overcome by grief; bystanders helped her to her feet. But mostly, victims’ relatives sent personal messages of enduring loss and remembrance to loved ones some had never even had the chance to know.
“Please know,” Kristin Vanacore said to the memory of her brother, Edward Raymond Vanacore, “that you and all of the other victims will never be forgotten.”
Rob Fazia was in attendance to honor his father Ron, who worked on the 99th floor of the South Tower.
“It isn’t easy and it is painful. I do it to honor my dad, to thank him for the way he helped us live our lives and just for making me and my friends and family who we are today,” he told 1010 WINS’ Roger Stern.
Susanne Brady, who lost her fiance in the attacks, said marking the day at ground zero can be cathartic and healing.
Lorelas Castillo, 24, lost her father in the attacks.
“It gives me something to be closer to him because this was the last place he was. Although it’s not a happy place, it’s good to come here and join the families as well,” she told WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell.
It was hardest, though, for those who are trying to remember someone they never knew – people who were not born until after their loved ones had died. More this year, families were seen carefully instructing the young on the ritual of mourning and memory.
One brave young soul whose father died in the attacks shortly before he was born tried to emulate the joy of memory – only to discover the aching void of absence.
“If I were to have one wish in this world, it would to be to meet my dad. Although I have never met him, from what I heard, he was a great man. He was a wonderful father to Lara and Donald, loving husband, caring son and special brother. One day I hope to be the same,” said Connor Gavagan, the son of a victim. “I love you, Dad, and miss you every day. Go Mets and Jets.”
And it was just as hard for adults to explain to children as it was for adults to understand themselves. They saw grown-ups waiting as the names were read and holding pictures aloft, and the sound of a name sometimes brought hugs or floods of tears.
There were flowers and flags around the reflecting pools where the names were engraved, and the ritual of making a rubbing of a name – a keepsake that helps for some.
In Washington, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama stepped out of the White House at 8:46 a.m. — when the first plane hit the north tower — to observe a moment of silence. Later Friday, President Obama was scheduled to observe the anniversary with a visit to Fort Meade, Maryland, in recognition of the military’s work to protect the country.
After years of private commemorations at the World Trade Center site, the anniversary now also has become an occasion for public reflection on the site of the terror attacks.
The memorial plaza opened at 3 p.m., three hours earlier than last year. An estimated 20,000 people flocked to the plaza on the evening of Sept. 11, 2014, the first year the public was able to visit on the anniversary.
“When we did open it up, it was just like life coming in,” National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum President Joe Daniels said this week. While the memorial will still be reserved for victims’ relatives and other invitees during the morning ceremony, afterward, “the general public that wants to come and pay their respects on this most sacred ground should be let in as soon as possible.”
Photos: New York, Nation Remembers 9/11
The museum’s chief curator, Jan Ramirez, said a display up in time for this year’s anniversary pays homage to two of the eight children killed in the terror attacks, including 2-year-old Christine Lee Hanson.
The youngest person killed on 9/11, Christine died when her plane crashed into the World Trade Center.
The display includes Christine’s beloved Peter Rabbit stuffed animal and 11-year-old Asia Cottom’s beloved Winnie the Pooh earmuffs and library card. Asia died when her plane hit the Pentagon.
“When you look at this, you just think of all the promise of all those lives that just never got to be,” Ramirez told CBS2’s Andrea Grymes.
Ramirez started at the museum nearly 10 years ago, taking in donations that not only tell the story of one of America’s darkest days, but of the resilience that followed.
“It’s not a job for everyone because there is a lot of emotion and you hear a lot of personal information that is very sensitive,” she said. “But all told, it is such a testament to human spirit and goodness and love.”
That human spirit comes across in another new exhibit at the museum from Jonathan C. Hyman. He photographed memorials that popped up across the country in the days and years following the attacks, including tattoos.
This year’s anniversary also came advocates for 9/11 responders and survivors are pushing Congress to extend two federal programs that promised billions of dollars in compensation and medical care. Both programs are set to expire next year.
But some of those close to the events aim to keep policy and politics at arm’s length on Sept. 11.
Organizers of the ground zero ceremony decided in 2012 to stop letting elected officials read names, though politicians still can attend. Over the years, some victims’ relatives have invoked political matters while reading names, such as declaring that Sept. 11 should be a national holiday, but others have sought to keep the focus personal.
“This day should be a day for reflection and remembrance. Only,” Faith Tieri, who lost her brother, Sal Tieri Jr., said during last year’s commemoration.
Other tributes were held around New York City Friday, including one for victims of the 9/11 attacks who hailed from Staten Island.
As CBS2’s Tracee Carrasco reported, the ceremony Friday night marked the tenth at the Postcards memorial along the St. George Esplanade. Two structures resembling postcards serve as a symbol of letters sent to those lost on Sept. 11, 2001.
Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke of the anniversary that forever binds together the city, as the names of all 274 Staten Islanders who were killed were read one by one.
“Everyone has each other, and that’s something in some way that gives us real solace — even 14 years later,” the mayor said.
Staten Islanders, like so many others, said the grief doesn’t get easier.
“We’ve lost so many people in the family, but this is one death you don’t get over,” said Charlie Smith, who lost his sister on 9/11. “Tears just come and come and come. You know, it’s a different kind of death. I don’t understand it.”
“It’s just like it was yesterday. It really is,” said Carole DiFranco, who lost her son on 9/11 “I was down at ground zero this morning and it doesn’t get any easier. It really doesn’t.”
Following the Staten Island ceremony, people placed flowers on the memorial as they will continue to do on the future anniversaries of this day.
Nearly a decade and a half after hijacked planes hit the World Trade Center’s twin towers, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the anniversary continues to be marked with observances around the country.
Elsewhere, there was reflection and prayer at the Empty Sky Memorial in Liberty State Park in Jersey City. And at Nassau County’s Point Lookout, Long Island residents came to a memorial in the sand.
“Healing – I’m slowly getting there,” said Olivia Perez, whose father died in the attacks. “I miss him every day, but I’m slowly getting there.”
The Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville in western Pennsylvania is marking the completion of its visitor center, which opened to the public Thursday. At the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and other officials will join in remembrances for victims’ relatives and Pentagon employees.
Sacramento, California, was commemorating 9/11 in conjunction with a parade honoring three friends who tackled a heavily armed gunman on a Paris-bound high-speed train last month. Two tunnels in Idaho Springs, Colorado, were renamed the Veterans Memorial Tunnels, and a cross-shaped steel sculpture taken from the rubble of the World Trade Center went on display at Dallas Love Field airport.
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