9/11 memorial plaza in NYC opens to public

September 12, 2011 9:22:08 AM PDT
Once a term to describe any generic disaster, ground zero became known around the country and the world as the site of the worst terror attack in U.S. history.

That term is now replaced by World Trade Center site, one of many changes 10 years after the attacks.

The Twin Towers in Lower Manhattan, the former symbols of American capitalism, are being replaced by skyscrapers still under construction and, more importantly, by a new 9/11 memorial symbolizing the overwhelming grief of this place and serving as a rallying cry for the words, "We will never forget." That memorial served as a special comfort to the family members of more than 1,000 victims whose remains were never found. It opened to the public Monday, though much of the complex will not open until next year.

The first visitors passed through metal detectors Monday morning and started making their way to the huge square fountains at the center of the 8-acre memorial plaza. Bronze plates around the fountains feature the names of the 2,977 people killed in the Sept. 11 attacks, as well as the six who died in the bombing of the trade center in 1993.

Visitors have to register for tickets online. Some 7,000 people had tickets to visit Monday. About 400,000 have registered to visit during the coming months.

Families of victims had been able to visit the memorial Sunday, but Monday was the first time the public was allowed in.

The site looked utterly different than it had for any other Sept. 11 anniversary; along with the names in bronze, there were two manmade waterfalls directly on the footprints of the towers, surrounded by dozens of white oak trees.

Thousands gathered in Lower Manhattan on Sunday to mark the 10th anniversary.

Chundera Epps, whose brother was on the 98th floor of the north tower, was in the crowd pressed near the new memorial.

"When it comes to family gatherings, that's when the hurt comes in," Epps said. "The first Thanksgiving all we did was cry, we couldn't even eat."

Some in the crowd wore t-shirts bearing images of those who perished in the attacks or carried signs with their pictures and the words "never forget."

Others waved small American flags.

Elijah Portillo, 17, whose father was killed in the attack, said he had never wanted to attend the anniversary because he thought he would feel angry. But this time was different, he said.

"Time to be a big boy," Elijah said. "Time to not let things hold you back. Time to just step out into the world and see how things are."

Among political figures attending were President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush.

Standing before the white oak trees of the new Sept. 11 memorial, President Obama read Psalm 46 from the Bible after a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., when the first jetliner slammed into the World Trade Center's north tower a decade ago.

"God is our refuge and strength," the psalm said. "He dwells in his city, does marvelous things and says, be still and know that I am God."

Earlier, Pres. Obama and former President George W. Bush bowed their heads at the trade center site and ran their hands over the bronze-etched names of the victims of the attack.

Obama and Bush were joined by their wives as they walked up to one of the two reflecting pools built over the towers' footprints, part of a Sept. 11 memorial that opened later in the day for relatives of the victims.

The president and former president later embraced family members and talked to dignitaries, including Mayor Bloomberg, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the governors of New York and New Jersey.

Bloomberg, opening the ceremony of remembrance, said: "Although we can never un-see what happened here, we can also see that children who lost their parents have grown into young adults. Good works have taken root in public service."

The ceremony began at 8:30 a.m., with a moment of silence 16 minutes later - coinciding with the exact time when the first tower of the trade center was struck by a hijacked jet.

And then, one by one, the reading of the names of the 2,977 killed on Sept. 11 - in New York, at the Pentagon and in rural Pennsylvania. The first was Gordon M. Aamoth, Jr.

"You will always be my hero," Patricia Smith, 12, said of her mother.

Nicholas Gorki remembered his father, "Who I never met because I was in my mother's belly. I love you, father. You gave me the gift of life and I wish you could be here to enjoy it with me."

Peter Negron, 21, whose father worked on the 88th floor of the north tower, said that in the decade since the attack, he had tried to teach his younger brother lessons he had learned from their father.

"I decided to become a forensic scientist," Negron said. "I hope that I can make my father proud of the young men my brother and I have become. I miss you so much, Dad."

Some family members held children on their backs who were not yet born when the towers were attacked.

As the sun rose, an American flag fluttered over six stories of the rising 1 World Trade Center.

The sky was clear blue with scattered white clouds and a light breeze, not unlike the Tuesday morning 10 years ago.

Among the names read, 37 of Lt. Patrick Lim's fellow officers from the police department of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Lim, assigned to patrol the trade center with an explosives detection dog, rushed in to the north tower after it was hit to help evacuate workers.

He and a few others survived despite still being inside a fifth-floor stairwell when the building fell.

In the years since, Lim said he has wrestled with survivor's guilt.

He took shelter in selective memory, visualizing the ground covered with women's shoes amid the destruction. "That's how I got through that because what was attached to the shoes was a lot worse," Lim said.

The 10th anniversary has forced Lim to revisit an experience he's worried too many people have pushed from their minds.

But the approach of Sunday's ceremonies convinced him of the value of revisiting Sept. 11, both for himself and others.

When it happened, talking about the events of that day "wasn't easy for me. This was very difficult. But it became... a catharsis," he said. "What I want is for people to remember what happened."

As the names were read, victims' relatives walked up to the names carved into stone at the memorial.

Many in tears, others simply looked somber. Still others showed little emotion at all; almost look like tourists visiting a memorial.

Besides the awful fate that brought them together here, most have two things in common: they all seemed to want to take pictures of loved ones' names and they touched the words in the stone, pressing their palms to them or running their fingers gently along the letters.

Others used pencils and paper to make etchings of the names, so they can bring a piece of this memorial home with them.

There were hundreds of ceremonies to mark the Sept. 11 anniversary in the New York area, across the country and around the globe: from a memorial Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York to a ceremony featuring nine-stories-tall replicas of the twin towers on a plaza in Paris.

Houses of worship throughout the city held prayer services for the dead.

At St. Peter's Church, a Roman Catholic chapel a block from the trade center that helped treat the wounded, hundreds of people stood watching the ceremony, some clutching flowers, others American flags.

It was hushed except for the sound of the organ playing the Bach cantata "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring."

"We have every right to feel angry. It is the opposite of indifference," the church's pastor, the Rev. Kevin Madigan, told those gathered for Mass.

But the priest urged forgiveness, saying the anger must then be relinquished and "somehow be linked to love."

He noted that the last moments of those whose names were being read were spent "in love, not hatred", calling or texting "I love you" to those closest to them.

Some information from the Associated Press