The crowds near the World Trade Center site were sparser than usual. The weather was worse. The once-searing memories of that day loomed a little more distant.
But for those who lost loved ones, whether they remembered in a cold rain at Ground Zero, or at a quieter gathering closer to home, the grief was as present as it has always been.
"We are still feeling, and will for generations to come, the impact of that horrible day," said Horacio Aponte of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, who came to the World Trade Center ceremony Friday despite recent knee surgery to honor the memory of his family friend, New York Fire Department Lt. Dennis Mojica, 50, of Rescue 1.
On what President Barack Obama declared a day of remembrance and service, Americans paused to recall the moments eight years ago when terror struck out of a clear blue sky. In Washington, Obama laid a wreath at the Pentagon and pledged to continue to defend the nation as well as to summon "that ordinary goodness of America . . . to strengthen our country and to better our world." In Shanksville, Pa., bells tolled in memory of the 40 people who died aboard the hijacked plane that crashed there. And in New York City, a litany of names, and of grief, streamed from the podium at the Ground Zero memorial ceremony.
"We miss you and love you more and more each day."
"We'll meet in a better place and never part again."
"Whether it's eight years or 800 years, you'll never be forgotten."
"I love you and miss you, Daddy."
On Long Island, hundreds gathered for the annual beachfront ceremony - moved this year from Point Lookout to a tent on Lido Beach because of the driving wind and rain. New York City firefighter Kenneth Haskell of Wantagh, whose two brothers, firefighters Timothy and Thomas Jr., died at Ground Zero, told the crowd the ocean has always been a source of comfort for Long Islanders.
"Water has been instrumental in the healing process of the past eight years," he said.
Carrying photo of her friend
As she does each year, Leslie Chin, 51, of Mineola, carried the photograph of her best friend, Kumkum Giralamo.
Giralamo, 37, was on the 99th floor of the South Tower when a plane crashed into it. "All I have are my memories," Chin said. "I miss her every day."
The whipping wind prevented the East Northport Fire Department from hoisting the American flag up from the ladders of two fire engines and releasing 12 white doves beneath a flyover by a Suffolk County police helicopter, but about five dozen firefighters still stood side by side in the rain to pay tribute to those lost.
"We still did what we were supposed to do," said Lt. Frank Giovinco. "We honored the folks who died Sept. 11, we honored their families and we honored the walking wounded."
By the end of the Manhattan ceremony, which was held adjacent to the World Trade Center site at Zuccotti Park, the number of mourners had dwindled to a few dozen. Perhaps it was the weather, or the passage of years, but Carmen Tulier, 52, left the service early for her own reasons.
"So many people died there, it just didn't feel right to be there," said Tulier, who moved from New York to the Poconos after her niece, Monique DeJesus, was killed in the attacks. "Peace, that's what I'm looking for, but I haven't found it yet."
Don Truitt, 44, of Chelsea, stood near the site for the moments of silence and tolling of bells. Truitt was working at Aon on the South Tower's 105th floor in 2001. But the morning of Sept. 11, he had not yet arrived at work.
"Year by year it's getting easier, but it's still hard," he said. "I have many friends who perished in the tower."
Victims' names read aloud
Representatives from city volunteer groups joined family members in reading the 2,752 names of people who died at the Trade Center, as a flute and cello played in the background.
"Eight years ago, countless people played a part in history by doing something to help another person, probably someone they didn't even know," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "Each act was a link in a continuous chain that stopped us from falling into cynicism and despair."
Jeff Perlman, 54, of Holtsville, was working for Dean Witter on the south tower's 52nd floor at the time of the attacks. Each year, he said, it becomes easier to come to grips with his memories. "But every year I call my co-workers and we meet and we wish each other 'Happy Birthday,' because we were given a new life," he said.
Perlman, who is moving to Allentown, Pa., to be closer to his grown children, said Friday marked the first time he'd come to Ground Zero for the ceremony.
"This is kind of my goodbye to New York," he said. "I just wanted to be here today. I'm trying to purge the sadness so I can say goodbye and move on."