NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The sky above lower Manhattan shined brightly Tuesday night in honor of the victims who died in an attack on America 17 years ago.

On Tuesday morning, family and friends of those who died gathered near the National September 11th Memorial and Museum, as they do every year, to pause, reflect and pay tribute to the lives that were lost that day. 

At 8:39 a.m., they once again began reading the names of the nearly 3,000 victims of the 2001 attacks along the footprint of where the Twin Towers once stood.

The ceremony paused six times – twice to mark the time each plane hit the towers, twice for the moments when the buildings fell, and twice more to mark the attacks on the Pentagon and Flight 93. 

“Whenever you see the footage of the planes hitting the tower, I think that the feeling just immediately comes back to you – just how can something like that happen?” NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said.

“It is now time to take our memories and convert them into history and allow this next generation to understand what happened, why it happened, who it happened to and also how we responded,” said Alice Greenwald, President and CEO of the National September 11th Memorial & Museum.

Photos: Remembering 9/11 Victims 17 Years Later

The commemoration was a solemn tribute to those who died and those who risked their lives to save others. Paul Nunziato listens for 37 names in particular — their memory forever enshrined at the headquarters of the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association.

“After the towers fell, I called for a roll call over the radio, I asked the desk to do a roll call, and half the guys didn’t answer,” he said.

He still has the roll call sheet from the PATH train command for Sept. 11, 2001. Of the 25 Port Authority cops on the day shift, 13 didn’t make it home, including his partner, Donny McIntyre.

“He never met his daughter, Lauren, she was born on November 27 after he passed. Best guy in the world,” said Nunziato.

More: Firefighter Whose Father Was Killed On 9/11 Follows In His Footsteps

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania attended a ceremony in Shanksville, Pennsylvania honoring the heroes of Flight 93. The plane, which took off from Newark Liberty International Airport, went down after the 40 passengers and crew members took extraordinary action. They stormed the cockpit when the plane was hijacked, with the U.S. Capitol Building believed to be the intended target.

Instead, the plane crashed into a field in Shanksville. 

“They fought until the very end. And they stopped the forces of terror and defeated this wicked, horrible, evil plan,” Trump said.

In Washington DC, an American flag was unfurled on the side of the Pentagon where Flight 77 crashed, killing 184 people.

Vice President Mike Pence and Defense Secretary James Mattis spoke at the ceremony. Mattis noted the bravery and sacrifice of those who fell 17 years ago. 

“Together with the families of the fallen we remember all that is good, all that is true, and all that is beautiful, about those we have lost,” he said.

The FDNY lost 343 members, the NYPD lost 23 cops and the Port Authority Police Department lost 37 officers, including Chris Amaroso, seen in a famous photo helping a woman after the attack.

“He could have easily went to the hospital and got treated. Chris went back into that inferno and tried to save more people,” Nunziato said.

Nunziato said the ceremony each year is comforting to many — the reading of the names keeping the promise to never forget. His heart aches for his fallen colleagues, but he knows the heartbreak of others is even more profound.

“I lost my partner and my friends, but people lost a son, a wife, a husband, a father, a daughter. The emotions they must be feeling, my heart goes out to them,” he said. “It’s important to be there for them. It’s important to always remember for them.”

More: Stephen Siller Foundation Turns Tragedy Into Helping Hand

Two members of the CBS2 family were also killed in the terror attacks. Engineers Isaias Rivera and Robert Pattison were both on the 110th floor of One World Trade at the time of the attacks. 

For many making the pilgrimage to Ground Zero on this 17th anniversary, the pain will still be very raw. But the hope is that they will take some comfort in the 9/11 Memorial and Museum’s testament to the triumph of human dignity over evil and in being surrounded by new signs of strength at the site.

Four of the five buildings, including One, Three, Four and Seven World Trade, are now open and occupied. Over the weekend, the new WTC Cortlandt Street subway station reopened.

There are also thousands of new residents living in the area, helping transform one of the nation’s worst tragedies into a symbol of renewal.

“I was here when it happened. So I’m glad there’s been a rebirth here and a renaissance,” said Marisa Latham, who works at Three World Trade.

At 7 a.m., the 9/11 Museum opened only for family members of those who died.

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