Nine years later, the sharp edges of grief are somewhat blunted and the Ground Zero pile replaced by the frenetic activity of rebuilding.

Families will gather Saturday morning across the street from where their loved ones perished on Sept. 11, 2001. As they do every year, they will mark with silence the moments the towers fell. They will listen as 2,752 names are read.

Yet two blocks away, a roiling political battle that has gone international as the anniversary approached will continue to unfold Saturday, with competing sides rallying near the site of a proposed mosque and community center. Some will rail at the insult, they say, of placing a mosque so close to what they consider the hallowed ground where America lost so many people to terrorists. Others will protest with equal fervor that the mosque must be built there, in an America that stands on an unshakable principle of religious freedom. And 2,000 miles away, a Florida pastor may or may not make good on his pledge to burn a Quran to mark the anniversary.

Despite the political debate, many believe there is reason for hope on this ninth anniversary. After delays and disagreements, Freedom Tower is rising. Its 36-story steel skeleton will eventually grow to 106 stories and is set to open in 2013. The memorial at the site will open on the 10th anniversary, and the museum on Sept. 11, 2012. To honor that progress, construction workers, engineers and architects involved in the building of the memorial and museum will join family members in reading the names of the lost Saturday.

One of the thousands of construction workers who built the original South Tower recalled the majesty of the view from the 110th-floor observation deck as it rose. And while he mourns the buildings' destruction, he admires what is being rebuilt. "It sure looks beautiful what they're doing so far," said John Gunther, 89, who never thought he would outlive the Twin Towers.

-Newsday Staff

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Working on Twin Towers 'high point' for carpenter


IN the early 1970s, before the upper floors of the World Trade Center's South Tower were even finished, John Gunther of Seaford would go up to the roof deck above the 110th floor and with the wind streaming hard and fast around him, look down at the world.

"I'd stand there with the railing up to my waist," Gunther recalled this week, almost 40 years after he worked as a union carpenter on those upper floors. "It was quite a sight to stand there like that. It was a thrill."

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So when he saw the television images of the collapsing towers nine years ago Saturday, he mourned not only the loss of life, but the landmark buildings where he labored and which he thought would outlive him - gone in an instant.

"Look at the Empire State Building, as old as it is, it's beautiful to look at," said Gunther, now 89. "I'd hoped the building I worked on would have been there even after the Empire State Building."

Gunther was among the thousands of men who worked on the World Trade Center site over the years. He installed hundreds of doors, frames and locks there. "You could say the doors were just a little part of the building, but it was a lot of work that I did . . . that was gone with the buildings," he said. "You would think that would last my lifetime and many years after that, but it didn't happen."

Nine years after the attacks, the new buildings at the site are finally emerging into the city skyline. For this year's remembrance ceremony Saturday, construction workers, engineers and architects laboring on the National September 11 Memorial and Museum will participate in the reading of the names of those who died in the attacks.