Officers waiting for the ceremony to begin at sunrise
As the sun rose on the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the bright sky and brisk air over Lower Manhattan conjured memories of that September morning that altered the course of history.
In honor of the 2,749 people killed on September 11, 2001, family members gathered at Ground Zero for a commemoration ceremony to recite the names and mourn the loss of their loved ones and the other victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center. The ceremony began with the solemn strains of NYPD and FDNY bagpipes followed by officers carrying a tattered American flag that was recovered from the trade center and flown over the site until October 2001.
A youth choir joined the officers holding the flag on stage to sing a rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner." In a particularly powerful moment, the choir emphasized Francis Scott Key's words, "that our flag was still there."
As the choir and bagpipes exited, Mayor Michael Bloomberg came to the podium to begin the ceremony, which he labeled a "heartbreaking anniversary."
"It surely cannot be easy to come to this site," said Bloomberg, after a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m. marked the moment that the American Airlines Flight 11 struck the north tower of the World Trade Center.
Other moments of silence were observed at 9:03 a.m., commemorating the moment when United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the south tower, and then at 9:59 a.m. and 10:29 a.m., the times when the twin towers fell.
A bell on stage was struck to signal the moments of silence. Three large accompanying bells were placed in Zuccotti Park in order to commemorate firefighters lost that day.
There were several elected officials and dignitaries on hand for the commemoration ceremony, including Governors George Pataki and Jon Corzine, Senators Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, Representative Jerrold Nadler, Comptroller Alan Hevesi, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
"Five years from the date of the attack that changed our world, we've come back to remember the valor of those we lost -- those who innocently went to work that day and the brave souls who went in after them," Giuliani remarked.
Susan Sliwak, whose husband Robert was one of the 568 Cantor Fitzgerald employees killed that day, quoted an Irving Berlin lyric.
"If I ever lost you, how much would I cry?" asked Sliwak. "How deep is the ocean? How high is the sky?"
In the crowd, many families wore matching t-shirts with the names and photographs of loved ones, waved American flags, and held up signs and images of remembrance. American Red Cross volunteers walked through the crowds offering water and tissues to grieving family members.
By 10 a.m., thousands of people were gathered on all four sides of the 16-acre World Trade Center site. Many people, attempting to get a better view of the ceremony, gazed from the World Financial Center, as well from the Vesey and Liberty Street bridges.
The ceremony was driven by spouses, partners, and family members who read the names of victims while string and wind quartets played in the background. Pataki acknowledged their unique connection to the victims. "Of all those we know in life, it is our chosen mate -- the companion of our days -- to whom we entrust our deepest selves. And in turn, we celebrate that person for exactly who they are," he said.
Two hundred and thirty individuals ascended to the stage to read names, reading approximately 11 names each. While names were read, family members were able to descend to the lowest level of the site to place flowers on the hallowed ground in memory of lost loved ones.
Bloomberg concluded the ceremony saying, "Even as we mourn our loss, we are ever mindful of what was written centuries ago: 'Let us not measure our sorrow by their worth, for then our sorrow will have no end.' For all Americans, this date will be forever entwined with sadness, but the memory of those lost can burn with a softening brightness.'"