On its first day open to the public, the National September 11 Memorial in lower Manhattan did what any grand monument can do: stir deep emotions in visitors and leave a lasting imprint on their spirits.

"You get kind of butterflies in your stomach, like you're somewhere important -- the most important place in America" said Ryan Rovvel, who visited from Los Angeles. "It's pretty moving."

Rovvel, 28, was one of the roughly 7,000 visitors to the memorial Monday, its opening to the public. People came from nearly every state and more than 30 countries. Many expressed awe. Some were silent. Some left in tears.

"The enormity of the loss. The enormity of human kindness. The enormity of the suffering," all struck an emotional Eileen Cristina, 64, who visited the memorial from Lititz, Pa.

Among the 2,983 victims' names inscribed in bronze panels that edge the memorial's two immense reflecting pools is that of FDNY firefighter Andrew Desperito of East Patchogue, who was 44 when he died.

His cousin David Byrne came from Atlanta and said a place of pilgrimage for those impacted by the attacks was finally set at Ground Zero.

"For all those years there was nothing there; now there's something that people can go to and see and visit from around the nation and the world," Byrne said.

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The memorial includes the names of all those killed on Sept. 11, 2001 as well as those who lost their lives in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

First to enter the memorial Monday was London resident Jelena Watkins, accompanied by her family. Her brother Vladimir Tomasevic, 36, was killed in the World Trade Center.

"It was a huge relief to see that it's actually beautiful," Watkins said. "It's the right feel."

Construction of the memorial began in 2006. The reflecting pools sit in the footprints of the original Twin Towers and are fed by waterfalls, above which run the bronze panels with victims' names. In the center of each pool is a dark granite void into which the water flows.

Tony Balcan of Levittown, 64, came with an old Navy buddy he hadn't seen in 40 years. The men planned visits this week to the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa., also sites of catastrophe on 9/11, before going to their naval unit's reunion. Balcan declared the memorial "very moving."

"It's more than I expected," he said. "It's just beautiful."

With Emily Ngo and AP


RESERVATIONS: Visitors must reserve passes in advance at 911memorial.org or 212-266-5200.

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ACCESS: It's free, but visitors are urged to make a donation to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. Groups of 10 or more can call or contact groups@911memorial.org. The museum is expected to open next September.