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Words of solace, optimism on 9/11 anniversary

Victims of the Sept. 11 attacks are remembered

Victims of the Sept. 11 attacks are remembered and honored in lower Manhattan. (Sept. 11, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

It was a day of protest, but also one of remembrance.

For the ninth time since the terror attack by al-Qaida on Sept. 11, 2001, killed 2,752 people in Manhattan, thousands gathered to pay homage to those who died.

Against a sunny backdrop of soothing string and cello music in a park near Ground Zero Saturday, a somber list of names of those lost was read by more than 200 family and friends paired with people rebuilding the site - steel workers, arborists, architects, plumbers.

Just yards from the rising steel frame of Tower Four, firefighter James Sorokac rang a polished FDNY bell to mark the moments when the Twin Towers were struck by hijacked planes and later collapsed.

Dignitaries led by Vice President Joe Biden, Gov. David A. Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg took part in short readings and offered words of solace and optimism.

"We come not to mourn, but to remember and rebuild," said Biden, who read from Longfellow.

"No other public place is as filled with our compassion, love and solidarity," Bloomberg said.

"Our towers may have fallen, but this nation will always stand tall," Paterson said.

Many families didn't want to talk about protests over a proposed mosque and Islamic community center blocks from the Trade Center site, but the subject hung over the gathering, particularly when it was learned that a Florida cleric who had planned a public burning of the Quran had come to town. In a television appearance Saturday, the Rev. Terry Jones said the burning would not happen.

Within an hour of the last name being read, dueling protests were launched over the proposed Islamic project. Supporters massed at City Hall Park, while those against assembled a few blocks away. The NYPD reported no trouble.

Jim Giaccone, 49, of Bayville, who lost his brother Joseph, 43, in Tower One, said Sept. 11 "is not about protests. It is not about demonstrations.

"I don't get caught up in politics. I am here for my brother," said Giaccone, who does not support one side over another.

Alyson Low, of Arkansas, whose sister Sarah, 28, a flight attendant, died in the attacks, held a sign that read, "Today is ONLY about my sister and the other innocents killed nine years ago."

Some spoke of how the past nine years have been a time of recovery for their families. But Sarah Porter, a secretary from Harlem who lost her sister, Sandra Campbell, 42, in Tower One, said the theme of looking ahead saddened her.

"I know we need to move on, but I just can't seem to get past it," Porter said.

Politicians like former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Gov. George Pataki also gave readings. But the core of the ceremony was the recitation of the names of some 1,123 whose remains were never found. The list is still wrenching for those who spoke and those who listened. Couples clenched tight, eyes moist, as the names were heard.

Agnes Palmer McCaffrey of Yonkers reading the name of her brother, Orio Palmer of Valley Stream, nearly broke down. Palmer, a battalion chief for the FDNY, became legendary for reaching the 78th floor of the south tower. He was one of 343 firefighters who died.

"It seems easy until you get up there and have to say his name," said Agnes' husband, James, also of the FDNY.

After the ceremony, many families walked the few blocks to Ground Zero to lay flowers.

With Maria Alvarez and Andrew Strickler

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