One year later: Recalling the unforgettable

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With flying flags, flowing tears, solemn prayers, skirling bagpipes and whispered words of remembrance, New Yorkers by the thousands led the nation yesterday in marking the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

From a morning roll call of the lost at Ground Zero to a nighttime presidential address on Ellis Island, the day was dedicated to memorializing the victims of an assault aimed at the very heart of the city.

The events drew the great and powerful, topped by President George W. Bush, who mingled with relatives of victims at Ground Zero and then spoke to the nation from a dramatic harborside setting.

As he did earlier at the Pentagon, Bush portrayed Sept. 11 as the opening event of a long struggle - and seemed to hint at a coming conflict with Iraq.

"America has entered a great struggle that tests our strength, and even more our resolve," he said. "We will not allow any terrorist or tyrant to threaten civilization with weapons of mass murder."

But if the politicians supplied the pomp and rhetoric, it was ordinary New Yorkers who made the day truly extraordinary by turning out for memorial ceremonies, church services, open houses at fire stations - or simply spontaneous acts of bearing witness.

"It was sort of an instinct. I was drawn," said Kathleen Boyez, 41, who walked the two miles from her Greenwich Village apartment to a spot bordering Ground Zero shortly before the reading of the victims' names began about 9 a.m.

Her companion on the hike, Hal Neier, said he hadn't planned to go to the site when he awakened, but simply had found himself walking there.

An eerie silence descended on the scene as the time for the start of the ceremony neared. The only audible sounds were jets flying overhead and American flags snapping in the gusty wind; those in the crowd who spoke did so in whispers.

Don Daley had a similar experience as he rode on a No. 2 subway train down to lower Manhattan to attend the ceremony. As the train passed under Lincoln Center, he said, the clock reached 8:46 a.m., the moment when the first hijacked airliner struck the north tower one year ago.

"Everybody to a person went silent," said Daley, 60, a high school English teacher, from Fairfield, Conn. "People were wiping their eyes. Not one person spoke. It was absolutely amazing. Of all places, the subway."

On many streets, people seemed unnaturally subdued, almost as if the weight of the occasion had knocked the wind out of the city.

It was a moment for showing the colors, and Fillip Wolny of Astoria, and Robert Maasin of Jackson Heights, spent the day toting around a large American flag they had carried across the 59th Street Bridge into Manhattan.

"It was my girlfriend's idea because last year, she met her mom in panic walking across the bridge into Queens to get out of the city," Wolny said.

"This year, we figured to pay tribute to people who passed away, this time we walked back triumphantly into Manhattan. It was kind of a reversal of what happened last year, to lift up everyone's spirits."

Flags lined stores and other buildings on Fifth Avenue, from Elizabeth Arden to the Wiz to a huge flag between the lions of the New York Public Library at 42nd Street. At MS 54 on West 108th Street, a 4-foot-by-6-foot banner was fashioned out of painted stones and formed into the Stars and Stripes.

Firehouses across the city opened their doors for open houses to mark the occasion and remember lost colleagues. In one, Ladder 20 on Lafayette Street in SoHo, Capt. Richard Weldon sat in his office and described his firehouse as filled with "pain and hate."

Then he talked about the seven firefighters his company lost a year ago.

"They were the ones who the others followed, the ones with so much experience and heart," Weldon said. "One guy, Sean Hanley, was a true comedian, really fun to be around. And John Fischer was such a strong presence. They were all good, strong men."

In each of the five boroughs, groups of bagpipers paraded to mark the occasion. One group started on Northern Boulevard near the Queens-Nassau border at 1 a.m. and marched 19 miles to Ground Zero.

There, in the pit at the base of the site, several thousand relatives of those who died last year arrived for the morning ceremony bearing mementos of all kinds, including flowers, ribbons and flagsticks. But most common were photographs of lost loved ones, some of them the original "missing" fliers that were posted throughout the city in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.

"This is where he is, so this is where we have to be," said Laurie Vigeant, who carried a large poster bearing the image of her lost brother, Gary Frank, an Aon employee.

As gusty winds kicked up a dusty backdrop, Mayor Michael Bloomberg began the morning ceremony with a moment of silence at 8:46. "Again today we are a nation that mourns," Bloomberg said. "Again today we take into our hearts and minds those who perished on this site one year ago."

The mayor then introduced his predecessor, Rudolph Giuliani, who began the reading of the 2,801 names of the dead and missing as cellist Yo-Yo Ma played the Sarabande to Bach's C Minor cello suite.

The roll call was continued by Secretary of State Colin Powell, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, actor Robert De Niro and relatives of victims from hard-hit companies such as Cantor Fitzgerald and Aon. The recitation of names paused three times; at 9:03 a.m., the moment when the second plane struck, at 9:59, when the first tower collapsed, and again at 10:29, when the second fell.

During the second pause, Brittany Clark, 11, read a poem for her father, Benjamin Keefe Clark, a chef who last was seen helping a woman in a wheelchair on the 88th floor of one of the towers.

"I give you this one thought to keep," the child read. "I am with you still. I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow. I am the diamond glint on the snow."

When the long roll call ended - 50 minutes late - Gov. George Pataki concluded by reading a section of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address that seemed to have special resonance for the occasion.

"But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground," Pataki read. "The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."

More than five hours later, many relatives returned to Ground Zero to watch Bush lay a wreath and then make his way slowly around a large circle of family members, embracing and chatting with them. Before arriving in New York, Bush spoke at a Pentagon ceremony honoring those who died there on Sept. 11 and laid a wreath at the site in rural Pennsylvania where the hijacked Flight 93 crashed on that day.

Among those who mingled with Bush at Ground Zero was Nathan Wahlstrom, 25, of Salt Lake City. His grandmother, Mary Alice Wahlstrom, and her daughter, Carolyn Beug, were aboard American Airlines Flight 11, which was headed from Boston to Los Angeles before crashing into the trade center. Wahlstrom said the president told him, "I'm so sorry. I will never let this happen again."

Nathan Wahlstrom's brother, Norman, 26, said relatives pressed Bush with mementos - and words of advice. "One lady shouted to him, 'You better get them for getting my husband,'" he said. The president stopped signing programs. "He looked up and he said, 'I will.'"

As dusk swept over the city, there was more high ceremony at Battery Park, where the mayor was joined by Powell, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and other dignitaries to light an eternal flame memorializing the victims.

Jailene Valentin, 10, who lost her father, Benito, was chosen to hand a candle to the mayor at the cermony. The resident of the Bedford Park section of the Bronx wore a shirt that read "We shall never forget Benito" with a picture of her father, who worked as an American Express travel consultant on the 94th floor of Tower One.

Afterward, her mother, Grissel Valentin, who is widowed with three daughters, said: "It helps that she's participating. But nothing can heal what we're going through. Ever."

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