As the 9/11 Memorial in lower Manhattan announced Thursday it had received more than 1 million visitors, the brothers and their uncle were among the thousands at the 8-acre memorial on a recent cold and gray day. The brothers had paused at a corner of the South Pool, one of two acre-size pools with waterfalls set into the footprints of the iconic Twin Towers, which once loomed over the New York landscape.
"It changed everything," said Vincent Leone, 20, his hands plunged into the pockets of his hoodie with "Floral Park Track" inscribed on the back, his only protection against the elements.
Each minute, 52,000 gallons of water cascade down the 30-foot-deep sides of both pools, creating a fine spray that is heightened in the cold.
Vincent Leone was speaking of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The brothers were then in the fifth grade, but the memory of that day has not faded and they wanted to come to the memorial as the days wound down on this 10th anniversary year.
"It's like there used to be this protective umbrella," he said, referring to the security he felt living in the United States. "We don't live under that anymore."
All around the brothers thousands of people walked through the memorial. For many the passage of a decade has not softened their emotions. Many wept as they read the names on the memorial and were reminded again of the lives lost on that sunny Tuesday morning.
Visitors from all over
Sean Leone said that not long after the attacks he started thinking about joining the Army -- which he did last December. Now stationed at Fort Totten in Queens, the private first class, dressed in his military fatigues, looked warmer than his twin.
It was the brothers' first visit to the memorial, which opened to the public Sept. 12. Sarah Lippman, a spokeswoman for the 9/11 Memorial, said an average of 10,000 people a day -- from all 50 states and more than 100 countries -- have visited the site. The Leones and Cuoco said they wanted to come during the holidays to pay their respects to the 2,983 victims whose names are cut into the bronze panels encircling the pools.
"We just wanted to give thanks to everyone for what they did and show we won't forget," said Cuoco, 38.
Amid the picture-taking and holiday air, many of the visitors appeared quietly moved as they ran their hands across the names, some of which already show signs of wear from the thousands of fingers that have passed reverentially over them.
Antoinette Seward, 54, of Johannesburg, South Africa, rubbed her hand across the name of Patricia Ann Mc- Aneney, 50, a claims examiner from Pomona, N.Y., who had worked on the 94th floor of the North Tower. "That's my sister's name," she murmured of the coincidence. "Patricia Ann." Her eyes welled up with tears.
'An awesome symbol'
Kathy Rodwell, 60, of Myrtle Beach, S.C., pulled out a photo of herself and her brother atop the observation deck of the north tower in 1979 to show a group of other visitors. "It was a cloudy day," she said, pointing to the photo. "You could barely see the Empire State Building."
As she recalled that visit and one two years later when she was pregnant, her voice cracked. "I forgot my tissues. I wish I hadn't," she said. Speaking about the memorial, she added: "It's both so heartwarming and so heartbreaking."
Many visitors voiced similar feelings, lulled by the rush of the waterfalls that were almost able to drown out the din of construction for the museum, to open late next year, and the new One World Trade Center, scheduled to open a year later.
"It's an awesome symbol," said Beth Bridgeman, 55, of Silver Spring, Md. The waterfalls are peaceful and calming, she said. "And yet the water is going down -- just like the towers." After a pause, she added: "That just gave me the shivers."
Minutes before, Scott Butler, 51, of Manhattan, had been seated on a bench dabbing at his eyes with a tissue. He said he had acquaintances who died that day. His 16-year-old nephew, Keith Johnson, visiting from Austin, Texas, persuaded him to come to the memorial for the first time.
"It's really a part of history," said the teenager.
"Curiosity and heartfelt sadness" drew Marie Jones, 85, of Camden, N.C. Seated in a wheelchair, she said the memorial reminded her of the one at Pearl Harbor. "I've seen that and don't want to go back," she said.
Nor will she return to the 9/11 Memorial: "so many names, such a long list of names."