First responders lead 9/11 ceremony
By Sarah Garland
New York Sun
Copyright 2007 The New York Sun
All Rights Reserved
NEW YORK — In dress uniforms of blue, gray, and green, the first responders who rushed to the World Trade Center site on September 11, 2001, yesterday called out the names of those they could not save six years ago.
It was the first time the firefighters, police officers, emergency workers, and others, some of whom barely escaped death themselves, have been asked to read the list of 2,750 victims.
It was also the first time the anniversary has fallen on a Tuesday, the same day of the attacks, and the first time the ceremony was held away from the ground zero site.
Some mourners had protested the decision to move the ceremony, which Mayor Bloomberg had said was necessary because of the construction going on at ground zero.
Instead, the site, with a lone crane rising into the hole in the skyline where the twin towers once stood, acted as the backdrop to a stage set up across the street in Zuccotti Park.
As a compromise, mourners were able to file into the site throughout the four-hour ceremony to drop flowers in a temporary reflecting pool.
Hundreds of family members and friends of the victims had gathered in the park by 8:40 a.m., when the ceremony opened with the unfurling of a torn American flag salvaged from ground zero.
Under a heavy, gray sky that occasionally gave way to pelting rain, the mourners alternately lifted photos of their loved ones and umbrellas.
A children's choir, the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, sang the national anthem, and four moments of silence marked the times when the two planes hit the towers and when each tower collapsed.
"On that day we felt isolated, but not for long, and not from each other," Mayor Bloomberg said, sounding a theme of togetherness
touched on by each of the speakers, including Governor Spitzer. "Six years have passed, and our place is still by your side," the mayor said.
Mayor Giuliani, whose campaign for the Republican nomination for president often touches on his performance on and following September 11, took the stage to read a passage from a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Elie Wiesel.
"It was a day with no answers, but with an unending line of people who came forward to help one another," Mr. Giuliani said in brief remarks.
The former mayor's attendance had raised some concerns about the ceremony becoming politicized. A brief scuffle erupted as a mourner waiting in line to visit the site reportedly called Mr. Giuliani "scum" as he walked by, according to an Associated Press reporter.
Firefighters and other first responders have been among the most vocal critics of Mr. Giuliani, citing both operational problems that went unresolved prior to the attacks and the rapid ground zero cleanup led by the former mayor, with some blaming the toxic dust left at the site for making them sick.
Senator Clinton also attended, but did not speak.
Ceremonies were also held at the sites where two other hijacked airplanes crashed on that day - the Pentagon, where 184 people died, and in a field near Shanksville, Pa., where 40 people were killed.
By the end of the New York ceremony, the rain had slowed to a trickle and only a few dozen mourners remained huddled together as trumpeters began to play "Taps."
Among them was Maria Vargas, 57, who walked alone hugging a pink rose to her chest. She moved to Queens from Bolivia to live by herself after her husband, David Vargas, died during the attacks. Yesterday, she said she did not feel lonely.