POINT LOOKOUT, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A 9/11 ceremony that usually draws thousands of people on Long Island made some changes this year to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Nineteen years ago, Point Lookout provided a seaside vantage point of the World Trade Center attacks.

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As CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reported, this year’s ceremony was held in a socially distanced parking lot with only 900 cars allowed in. Still, the pain was sharp.

“I was the former captain of Ladder One on 9/11,” retired FDNY member Ron Schmutzler said.

“Losing a lot of brothers that day, but also remembering how we came together as a country. Hatred did bring down the buildings, but love is what really, really resonated after that,” said Harold Brown, a retired member of the FDNY.

(Jennifer McLogan/CBS2)

Some listened in cars to emotional speakers and songs. Others sat in chairs or stood to hear and pray in the parking lot adjacent to the town park’s granite wall filled with thousands of names.

Sheila Mathew, of Merrick, was there with her 5-year-old son, Emerson.

“We’re reading all the names, teaching him all the people that gave their life on 9/11 and died afterwards,” Mathew said.

“The buildings crashed down and many people died,” Emerson said.

It was there in 2001 that McLogan and her camera crew joined hundreds of people who spontaneously gathered at the beachfront to look across the water at Lower Manhattan. Smoke billowed as the Twin Towers collapsed and burned.

(Jennifer McLogan/CBS2)

“We are committed in the town to never forgetting. It’s not a slogan on a bumper sticker on a car,” said Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin. “We had an amazing turnout here today.”

Many return every year for what is now Hempstead Town’s official 9/11 memorial at Town Park to honor those who died, including the late NYPD hero Luis Alvarez, of Oceanside.

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Alvarez died after a lengthy and courageous battle with 9/11-related cancer last year. To the end, he fought in Washington, D.C. as a staunch advocate for the federal 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.

McLogan spoke with his brother, Phil, at Friday’s ceremony.

Retired NYPD detective and 9/11 responder Luis Alvarez testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund on Capitol Hill. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

“I told him I was proud of him. I told him that he had picked a noble fight. I told him he was blessed to come to the end of his life and talk about something that was important to him,” said Phil Alvarez. “And he knew that. He knew that and he was at peace.”

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Memories are raw.

“Makes me remember that day in particular of picking up my kids from school and not wanting to stop hugging them,” Sea Cliff resident Mark Sobel said.

“I worked on Wall Street and the beach is my serenity, so I just think this is a beautiful thing. We are never to forget, never,” Long Beach resident Ginny Cole said.

The annual pilgrimage on Sept. 11 to the sacred memorial provides a space for reflection to all those affected by the events of that day.

As is tradition, loved ones placed white carnations in the water to float into the channel and drift toward Ground Zero 24 miles away.

The town of Hempstead passed out 1,000 carnations, along with masks and tissues.

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