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Scores of 9/11 family members from around the nation convened at the National Sept. 11 Memorial plaza on Tues., Sept. 11 to commemorate the deaths of their loved ones. The ceremony, held annually at the World Trade Center, omitted speeches by dignitaries for the first time — part of a nationwide initiative this year to scale back 9/11 commemoration events. As usual, neither local residents nor first responders were permitted to attend the ceremony.
The program began shortly after 8:30 a.m. with bagpipers and drummers marching alongside an American flag carried through the memorial to the stage, where the Young People’s Chorus of New York City performed the national anthem. Moments of silence were observed throughout the morning at the times of the W.T.C., Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania plane crashes, in between the emotional reading by family members of the 2,983 names of those who died on 9/11. The participants also read aloud the names of the deceased from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
The program concluded with a performance of taps by three trumpeters from the New York Police Department, the Fire Department of New York and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department.
Though 11 years have passed, Alyson Lowe, from Fayetteville, Arkansas, felt emotionally exhausted before and during the ceremony. Lowe’s sister Sara Lowe, a flight attendant, was on the American Airlines jet that struck the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. that day.
Lowe said the diminution of the ceremony didn’t bother her — particularly if it benefits the Downtown community. “If it gets smaller, that’s fine, or even if it stops altogether, that’s okay,” she said. “We know that it’s really disruptive to the people who live and work down here, and we’re mindful that they deserve to have their lives get back to normal.”
Victor Santillan, whose sister and cousin were among the 658 Cantor Fitzgerald workers who were trapped on the top floors of the North Tower, was also indifferent about the non-participation of Mayor Mike Bloomberg and other politicians the day of the ceremony. “As long as people are paying respect to lost ones,” he said, “I’m okay either, or.”
Attending the ceremony at the plaza, rather than on barren land at the site, makes such a difference, he said. “For so many years, we had to trek down the stairs, and we weren’t really able to go around.”
Commenting on the plaza’s makeup, Santillan said, “The fact that they were able to do the waterfalls is a long-lasting tribute to our family members.”
9/11 Memorial’s ‘community evening’ offers quiet reflection
In advance of the more publicized commemoration ceremony, the 9/11 Memorial invited Downtown residents to spend an evening at the Memorial plaza on Sun., Sept. 9. Passes were provided by the 9/11 Memorial through Community Boards 1, 2 and 3. While some tourists were still present, the plaza was less crowded and even more serene than usual, providing several hours of peaceful reflection for locals who were deeply affected by the disaster.
Though artist Diane Blell, who has lived on Cedar Street since 1977, can see the memorial from her apartment window, she hadn’t paid a visit to the plaza until that evening. “I saw the construction taking place every day,” she said, “but once it was done, I just didn’t have the heart to come. But I’m so glad I came tonight. It’s so graceful and reverent, and it has a purity that I didn’t expect.”
Blell was hit hard by 9/11, even though she wasn’t in her apartment that morning. The wreckage and debris caused by the collapse of the towers all but made her homeless for a year, as she was forced to sleep on friends’ couches.
She was especially moved by the sense that, upon stepping foot on the Memorial plaza, she had truly regained her home. “It’s a beautiful testament, and it just feels so perfect,” she said.
Pine Street resident Bill White visited the memorial that night not only because he is a local resident, but because his connection to the W.T.C. dates back to the 1993 bombing at the site. At that time, he was the assistant director of disaster services for the Greater New York branch of the American Red Cross.
“Taking the time to reflect on these events is such a personal matter for people of this community, and it’s even more personal for me because of my previous involvement in the site,” said White. “So I think that being invited here tonight sends a very meaningful message to the community.”
White added, though, that some frustration has arisen from the politically charged conflicts that have stalled construction on the 9/11 Museum, the opening of which has been delayed several times in recent years.
“I’m not sure how to feel about the museum yet,” said White, “but I, and I think many other people as well, have certainly been troubled by the negative events that have resulted from its development so far.”
Lowe said it was “very painful” that the museum didn’t open in time for the anniversary — particularly since, as many agree, it is partly attributable to a clashing of politicians’ egos. “The names are beautiful…but we want faces to go along with them,” she said. “So we’re hoping that they’ll stay true to their word and that they’ll finish.”
9/11 Memorial and Museum President Joe Daniels, who was present on the plaza during the community event, acknowledged a sense of incompleteness that he feels will exist as long as the museum remains unopened.
“I’m committed [to its opening],” he said, “and it’s also personal for me, because anytime I start something, I want to see it through.”
He continued, “All I can say is that we’re not done yet, and we won’t have the feeling that we have really done our jobs until the 9/11 Museum opens to the world.”
But local residents weren’t the only visitors of the plaza that night — and for one particular group of out-of-towners, debates about construction meant little compared to the sheer power of experiencing the Memorial.
Master Sergeant Lance Loalbo and three other members of the U.S. Air Force had come from performing the ceremonial flyover at the U.S. Open in Queens. The group was heading back to their base in North Carolina the next morning, so they took advantage of the little time they had left by pacing quietly along the plaza.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Loalbo, as his gaze shifted between the reflecting pools at ground level and the frame of 1 W.T.C. rising above. “Just to walk here, just to be here. It’s huge.”