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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Wednesday marks 18 years since terror attacks changed New York forever.
The thousands of lives lost are being honored in a ceremony at the World Trade Center.
Politicians who make headlines every day attend the ceremony, but they don’t speak. The focus is instead on the families.
The ceremony unfolds where the twin towers once reached 1,300 feet towards the sky.
Six moments of silence are marked, along with countless moments of heartache.
The site is more than a memorial plaza: The remains of almost 1,100 people who died there have not been identified.
The family of firefighter Ruben Correa had nothing to bury.
“It never gets easier as the years go on. I still remember that day that we was told that Ruben was missing, and he was never found. So this is actually his resting spot. His memorial is here. So the days don’t get easier, the years don’t get easier,” said his cousin Edwin Morales.
Eighteen years have passed since that Tuesday morning that started with a brilliant blue sky, soon to become a backdrop for unimaginable evil.
“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?” said NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill.
Nineteen hijackers boarded four planes bound from Boston, Newark and Washington, D.C., loaded with fuel for flights to California.
At 8:46 a.m., American Flight 11 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.
Seventeen minutes later at 9:03 a.m., United Flight 175 impacted the south tower. The world realized there was a coordinated terror attack unfolding.
At 9:37 a.m., American Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.
At 9:59 a.m., the south tower collapsed.
In the air above Pennsylvania, passengers on United Flight 93 realized what’s happening. Some left voicemails for family.
“Please tell my children that I love them very much. I hope to be able to see your face again baby,” one message said.
At 10:03 a.m., passengers forced the hijacked plane down into a field outside Shanksville, Penn.
At 10:28 a.m., the north tower fell.
In all, 2,996 people died in the attacks. Fifteen percent of them were first responders.
The FDNY lost 343 members.
The NYPD lost 23 cops.
Port Authority Police lost 37 officers.
Eighteen years later, the annual gathering is held, to fulfill what must be an eternal promise: To never forget.
The ceremony is just part of a long day for most of the families. Many attend a church or memorial service.
The NYPD, FDNY, PAPD and other groups also host luncheons for the families, where memories are shared, laughs are heard, and tears are shed.