Some put bouquets below the names of loved ones etched on the marble wall. Others simply touched where the names were etched. And in the end, all threw flowers into the surf where many of their beloved rest.
Nearly 300 people last night commemorated the 14th anniversary of the fiery end of TWA Flight 800 in a ceremony at the memorial at Smith Point County Park.
The leader of the Families of TWA Flight 800 Association, John Seaman of upstate Clifton Park, formally launched an effort to raise a $1-million endowment by next year's 15th anniversary so the TWA Flight 800 International Memorial can be preserved in perpetuity.
"This has been a war and we have won every battle," he said. "But we have to win the last one or we will lose the war."
The families say an endowment is needed to preserve the $15-million marble memorial and its landscaped gardens, which contain 8,000 perennials, 2,000 bulbs and 1,500 annual flowers.
Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches), a member of the new endowment committee, said "although 14 years have passed, for the families and friends, it's just like yesterday. There's pain . . . but a place like this eases that."
The association also named Walter Stockton, head of Independent Group Home Living, which maintains the memorial, to lead the fundraising effort.
"Government funding is always tenuous," he said. "We don't want to hold out hope that money will always be there."
The annual upkeep for the memorial, created in 2002, is $150,000. It was built at the closest shore point to the site in the Atlantic where the Paris-bound plane exploded and crashed with 230 aboard. The endowment has raised about $100,000 from the families of those lost in the disaster, but the fund will need about $3 million to cover annual upkeep. Suffolk once provided $70,000 annually, but since 2006 county support has dropped to $10,000 a year.
For many, returning to the memorial on the anniversary of the fateful night is as necessary as breathing.
Margret Krick, of St. Louis, who lost her son Oliver, 25, a pilot who was making only his fourth flight for TWA, said, "I will always come here. I couldn't be anywhere else."
Donations can be sent to the TWA Flight 800 Memorial Endowment, P.O. Box 1061, Clifton Park, NY 12065.
With Matthew Chayes