Sad and somber day: NYC marks 20th anniversary of attacks at Sept. 11 memorial
This story was reported by Matthew Chayes, Anthony M. DeStefano, Carl MacGowan, Craig Schneider and The Associated Press. It was written by Schneider.
As mourners gathered in lower Manhattan on Saturday to mark a sad and somber 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, loved ones of those who perished wore pins of blue ribbons. Some wore T-shirts bearing victims' names.
Hundreds of people stood quietly on Greenwich Street under a brilliant blue sky, eerily reminiscent of 20 years earlier. They assembled at New York's main ceremony, held at the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum. Along the 9/11 reflecting pool, attendees quietly placed flowers in the grooves where thousands of names have been etched in memoriam.
The ceremony began with the Young People's Chorus of New York City singing "The Star-Spangled Banner," accompanied by an honor guard, and a bagpipes and drums of first responders. A pipe and drums band held a tattered American flag.
The crowd seemed to instinctively fall into a respectful silence at 8:46 a.m., the time when the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center. A bell tolled across the cloudless late-summer morning.
People remained that way — no one speaking, only the sound of a dog barking or a child's voice — as the ceremony continued.
Across the Big Apple, police, if they were not taking care of emergency calls, assembled outside their respective buildings to listen to the reading of the 23 names of NYPD officers who perished on Sept. 11.
A second bell sounded at 9:03 a.m., the moment the south tower had been struck. Another tolled at 9:37 a.m., when a plane struck the Pentagon. And yet another at 9:59 a.m., when the south tower fell.
A bell tolled at 10:03 a.m., when a plane crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
The final bell rang out at 10:28 a.m. to remember the falling of the north tower.
For hours, the names of the dead were recited by a procession of loved ones and strangers.
Last year, the annual recitation of the victims’ names was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the Tunnel to Towers Foundation had nevertheless convened a separate ceremony several blocks away to carry on the tradition.
Mike Low, whose daughter Sara Low was a flight attendant on one of the planes that crashed, said: "These 20 years have felt like a long time and a short time."
That day, he said, "felt like an evil specter had descended on our world. But it was also a time when many people rose above the ordinary."
Low called the memorial site " a quiet place of memory."
'You see them in your dreams and your heart'
During the ceremony, Bruce Springsteen performed "I’ll See You in My Dreams," a song from his 2020 album "Letter to You." He wore a dark suit and tie and played an acoustic guitar.
Springsteen's 2002 album "The Rising" was a response to the terror attacks.
The family of the FDNY’s Brian C. Hickey, 47 when he died, attended. Hickey was a captain from Bethpage who was posthumously promoted to battalion chief. He was also a Nassau County firefighting instructor, in whose memory there is a monument in front of the Bethpage firehouse.
His sister, Mary Hickey Truelson, 63, a high school English teacher in the Baldwin district, wore a blue T-shirt bearing his name and affiliation.
Her brother was a Springsteen fan, and she said the singer’s words resonated with the family. She said she always dreamed of her brother, not unlike Springsteen’s lyrics described.
"He said that nothing ends in death. In other words, like, and it’s so true, the relationships you have? You love somebody, you love ‘em your whole life — even if you don’t see them physically, you see them in your dreams and your heart."
Her cousin, Jacqueline DeRosa, 60, an English teacher in the Syosset district, read a tribute to Hickey before the mourners and the world. Truelson recorded it on her iPhone.
"So very brave. So very missed. So very loved. By so many. Always," DeRosa said.
After, a series of texts and other messages flooded Truelson’s phone from those who saw the tribute.
Joining the mourners were President Joe Biden, former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former first lady Michelle Obama, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Also in attendance Saturday morning were the city's Democratic mayoral nominee Eric Adams, state Attorney General Letitia James and former NYPD chief of department and emergency commissioner Joe Esposito.
As the names were recited, Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke with loved ones of those who perished as well as cops, offering an occasional hug.
'Tell their stories'
Freyda Cain of Brooklyn, a cousin of Massapequa’s George C. Cain, said she added a new Mass card to her memorial necklace whenever she met another fellow 9/11 family — not just those who died that day 20 years ago, but also those sickened and killed by toxins linked to the Ground Zero pile.
"Show their faces. Tell their stories," she said, holding a sign with a photo of her cousin, who grew up in Massapequa and was a member of the FDNY’s Ladder 7 in Manhattan.
"I carry these to honor the families who are missing their loved ones. They died after 9/11 but, you know, they need to be remembered and honored as everyone else should be. [Because] 9/11 is not over. There’s still families suffering. There’s still men and women dying from the cancers that they contracted here."
As names were recited and bells tolled, Cain walked around the memorial plaza hugging other families.
"I’ll be here until God tells me that I had enough," she said.
In all, 2,753 people died in the World Trade Center attacks, nearly 500 of them from Long Island. Many more died from illnesses caused by their time working at Ground Zero.
Steve Noon, 60, of Greenlawn, came to the city to honor a former high school classmate Jimmy Nelson, as well as a former co-worker.
Nelson, he said, was a friend from Centereach High School. He was a big Monty Python fan who enjoyed riding his bicycle to Stony Brook Harbor, said Noon, a former News12 cameraman.
Noon choked up as he recalled seeing Nelson at a high school reunion just months before he died in the World Trade Center.
"We were just jokesters, class clowns," Noon said.
Noon also knew Glen Pettit, an NYPD photographer-videographer and former freelance news photographer who died that day. Noon said he got to know Pettit when both worked in the news business.
Noon said he had a premonition that Pettit’s fearless style might lead to tragedy.
"I said someday he’s going to have a street named after him," Noon said. "He was so gung-ho, he’s going to get himself killed doing something."
During the ceremony, some people carried American flags. There were men and women in military uniforms or in the dress blues of police and fire departments from San Antonio, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Chicago and elsewhere.
Dennis Sirjuesingh said he remembered "everything" from the day the towers fell. The horror. Everything.
"There’s nothing you can ever forget," said Sirjuesingh, 56, who worked as a sales manager in an office near the World Trade Center 20 years ago.
On Saturday, he brought his family — including his wife, Natalie, and their 10-year-old twin daughters, Denalie and Amelia — from San Antonio, where they live.
Wearing NYPD hats and shirts, they said they spent the last couple of days visiting the 9/11 Memorial Museum and going up to the observation deck to take in the sprawling views from the top of One World Trade Center.
The girls were impressed that the elevator ride took only 47 seconds.
"I really like that I could be here with my dad where it happened, and learning about what happened," Denalie said.
Amelia said it was "amazing … to see how New York came together and built everything new."
Their father said it was important to "teach the children about what happened," even if it was painful.
Tributes in the form of wreaths ringed the memorial plaza — from the pilots and flight attendants' unions, the United Nations, the police labor unions and others.
"We’re here to honor my brother’s life and fallen firefighters and first responders and all the other poor souls who were victims of this horrible event," said Bill Regan, whose fellow FDNY firefighter brother Donald, 47, was killed in the attacks.
Former President Donald Trump commemorated the 20th anniversary of 9/11 by visiting a fire station and police precinct in Manhattan several blocks from Trump Tower on Saturday.
Trump didn't join Biden and other past presidents at official 9/11 memorial ceremonies.
Instead, he went to the NYPD 's 17th Precinct and the neighboring FDNY station.
Dario Salmaso, 43, of Manhattan, held his 15-month-old son Luduvico as he stood on Greenwich Street on Saturday
His son is too young to understand about the attacks and patriotism, said Salmaso, a native of Italy. But it’s not too soon to start learning.
"Because he’s American too," Salmaso said as his son reached for a reporter’s notebook and pen. "He has to understand what it means to be American. Right now maybe he doesn’t understand, but maybe next year he will understand."
Salmaso remembered being with friends in a basement apartment in Milan 20 years earlier when a friend’s mother came downstairs crying.
"You have to understand what’s happening in America right now," she said.
Salmaso said he came to New York six years ago to work in the furniture business, determined to succeed in his adopted country.
"I always had the dream," he said.