By JAMES BARRON
Published: September 11, 2011
Just as Sept. 11 was unthinkable, Sunday was inevitable: the 10th anniversary of a day that stands alone. In history. In memory.
Three-thousand six-hundred fifty-two days have now passed. At 8:46 a.m. — the time when the first plane slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center — 87,648 hours had gone by. Another 5,258,880 minutes. Another 315,532,800 seconds.
Once more, the families gathered at ground zero, where 2,749 died, and in Washington and in Pennsylvania, paying tribute to the 224 who died there.
Once more, there was an outpouring of grief. And there were fresh jitters about security as President Obama’s top counterterrorism official, John O. Brennan, appeared on television news shows to say that the administration would “leave no stone unturned” in pursuing a still-unconfirmed intelligence tip that Al Qaeda was plotting to disrupt the anniversary.
“It’s not confirmed,” he said, “but we are not relaxing at all. This is a 24/7, round-the-clock effort by all elements of the U.S. counterterrorism community.”
The ceremony at ground zero brought together the officials who were in office 10 years ago — President George W. Bush, Gov. George E. Pataki of New York, Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco of New Jersey and Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani — with their successors: President Obama, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who said that the attacks had turned “a perfect blue-sky morning” into “the blackest of nights.”
“We can never unsee what happened here,” the mayor said.
President Obama read Psalm 46, which talks about God as “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” and Mr. Cuomo read from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union address, the “four freedoms” speech — freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear “anywhere in the world.”
Mr. Bush quoted Abraham Lincoln on the casualties in the Civil War as he commemorated the casualties of Sept. 11. “I pray that our heavenly father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement,” Mr. Bush read, from a letter Lincoln had written in 1864 to a mother whose five sons had died in the war.
“President Lincoln not only understood the heartbreak of his country,” Mr. Bush said, “he also understood the cost to sacrifice and reached out to console those in sorrow.”
There were also long moments of silence, first at 8:46 a.m., the time American Airlines Flight 11 struck the north tower, and again at 9:03 a.m., when United Airlines Flight 175 smashed into the other tower. Another silence — at ground zero and at the Pentagon — came at 9:37 a.m., when American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into what had been considered the unshakable nerve center of the world’s most powerful military.
“There are no words to ease the pain that you still feel,” Leon E. Panetta, the secretary of defense, told relatives of the 184 people who died there.
Another moment of silence, at 10:03 a.m., marked the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa. — the plane on which passengers tried to fight back, storming the cockpit and attempting to take control of the plane from the terrorists who had hijacked it. “There is nothing with which to compare the passenger uprising of 10 years ago,” said Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania. “It has no companion in history in my mind.” He added: “Their uprising marks the moment in history when Americans showed what makes us different. We refuse to be victims. We refuse to settle for the term ‘survivor.’ Captivity will not suit us.”
The silver bell at ground zero was rung to remember those passengers, as it had been rung through the morning to remember the passengers on the other hijacked airliners and the people inside the twin towers — office workers, custodians, people having at breakfast in the restaurant a quarter-mile above the street.
The bell tolled again at 10:28 a.m. “North Tower falls,” read large letters on video monitors — three short words that described the destruction of one of the world’s largest buildings, one that had taken some six years to complete.
That silence was the longest, and was the last scheduled at ground zero. But the vigilant did not pause. On a construction scaffold of One World Trade Center, on a deck of the World Financial Center, on the post office building across from the site, police officers with binoculars scanned the crowd below and the sky above.
Then Mr. Giuliani, who was approaching the end of his tenure on Sept. 11 — and who provoked criticism for seeking an extension — stepped to the lectern. “The perspective that we need and have needed to get through the last 10 years and the years that remain are best expressed by the words inscribed by God in the book of Ecclesiastes,” he said before reading the famous passage that begins, “To every thing there is a season.”
“A time to be born, and a time to die,” Mr. Giuliani read, as his wife, Judith Nathan, stood behind him. He was applauded after the last line: “A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”
Once more, the names were recited — solemnly, but sometimes with poignant, personal reminiscences. One man was thanked for looking down from heaven and helping the Dallas Cowboys. Another relative mentioned “your laughter, your smile and your meatloaf.” And Jefferson Crowther stood at the microphone with a red kerchief in his shirt pocket.
The ribbon’s significance became clear when he got to the last name he read.
“And my courageous son, Welles Remy Crowther,” he said, his voice cracking. “The man with the red bandanna.” Welles Crowther, a firefighter, had worn a red bandanna on Sept. 11 as he tried to help people escape from the World Trade Center.
The 10th anniversary dawned on a city and a nation that has changed immutably, with continuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and persistent security worries at home. And no longer is ground zero a scarred reminder of what was, but a symbol of resurgence, with the National September 11 Memorial about to open and a not-yet-finished skyscraper now 961 feet above the street where thousands fell.
What was then the site of the World Trade Center is now surrounded by construction fences. But reminders of what happened were everywhere: There were flags on the new Tower One, the “Freedom Tower.” The subway station nearby has an exit sign that identifies it as the “Rector Street 9/11 Memorial,” with the “11” written to look like the twin towers.
Ten years ago, it was just another morning — a Tuesday, a day when ordinary people did the most ordinary of things: Scrambling to work, kissing their families goodbye, running for the train. And then there was the dark gash and the ball of fire high up in one of the buildings, and a few minutes later, a second gash, a second ball of fire and a plume of smoke visible for miles.
“Things were never going to be the same again,” said Charles Mintzer, a now-retired New York State employee. On Sunday, he returned to the place he had watched a decade ago, the promenade overlooking the East River in Brooklyn Heights.
So did Marcy Chapin, a retired foundation executive, who had gone there on Sept. 11 and remembered hearing shouting in the streets about New York being under attack. She reached the promenade — as the second plane hit.
“I though, ‘What could be next? The Brooklyn Bridge?’ ” she recalled.Sept. 11 put New York, a city that had not faced combat in more than 200 years, on the front lines in a global war on terrorism. Sept. 11 made slogans created by Madison Avenue like “If you see something, say something” as widespread as “Loose lips sink ships” once was.
But Sept. 11 redefined so much more.
One measure of how Sept. 11 changed everything was how little grumbling there was last week as motorists waited to crawl through police checkpoints after officials began investigating the report of a possible Al Qaeda plot to coincide with the anniversary. The acceptance of the police inspections was a sign of how Sept. 11 had redefined bridges and tunnels in a way that generations of commuters had never imagined, as potential targets.
Sept. 11 redefined so much more.
Sept. 11 brought color-coded threat levels (though the Department of Homeland Security, itself a post-Sept. 11 creation, phased them out several months ago).
Still travelers worry: Is it safe to fly? Since Sept. 11, airline passengers have had to pull off their shoes and empty their pockets, and they have felt embarrassed when they forgot they had a too-big bottle of shampoo or mouthwash in their carry-on.
And still there were episodes when terrorists on international flights tried to set off plastic explosives hidden in their shoes or sewn into their underwear.
Is it safe to open the mail? A week after the Sept. 11 attacks, letters containing anthrax killed 5 people and infected 17 others. It took the F.B.I. five years to conclude that an Army microbiologist had been responsible. In the confusion at first, people hoarded antibiotics, and officials briefly grounded crop-dusting airplanes.
But this anniversary played out against a different backdrop than the first anniversary, in 2002, or the fifth, in 2006. For the first time, Osama bin Laden was dead. “We’ve taken the fight to Al Qaeda like never before,” Mr. Obama declared Saturday in his weekly radio address.
For the first time, too, there was tangible progress toward fulfilling the promise to rebuild — a promise made in the aftermath of the attacks but delayed by squabbling over architects, plans and finances. Buildings are rising between Church and West Streets in Lower Manhattan, and the National September 11 Memorial will open to the public on Monday. Relatives of those who died at the World Trade Center will get a first look on Sunday.
If they were to measure it, they would see that the memorial covers about half of the 16-acre World Trade Center site. They will see that the names of the dead have been inscribed on the walls of two reflecting pools that now fill the footprints of the old towers — pools that hold 550,000 gallons of water and are lined with 3,968 panels of granite, each weighing 420 pounds. A museum is to open next year. For the memorial and the museum together, the plans called for some 8,151 tons of steel and 49,900 cubic yards of concrete.
“The size of it all is kind of breathtaking,” said Paul Schlenr of Cincinnati, who said his wife’s sister, Margaret Seeliger, died in the south tower.
Christine Corday, an artist whose husband runs the company that installed the bronze plates with the names, had been at ground zero early on Sunday, polishing the letters that had been etched in. “Every name has run under the palm of my hand,” she said. “Each name here is a life, and that’s never been lost on anyone that’s worked on this project.”
Mary Dwyer of Brooklyn, whose sister, Lucy Fishman, also worked in the south tower, said it was moving to be able to stand, for the first time, near where Ms. Fishman had died. “It’s the closest I’ll ever get to her again,” said Ms. Dwyer, adding that she is 36, the same age her sister was on Sept. 11, 2001.
Of the waterfalls, Debra Burlingame, whose brother, Charles, was the pilot on American Airlines Flight 77, said, “Some people think of them as tears” — an idea echoed by Alice M. Greenwald, the director of the museum, as she walked along the pools.
In the late afternoon, she said, the sunlight creates rainbows in the pools. And at night, lights shine from below, creating a “moire effect” that reminds her of the latticelike pattern of the twin towers.
“The difference for me is seeing people here,” Ms. Greenwald said. “This is now a place, not a construction site, not a design. It’s now a place in New York.” She said the difference was “transformational.”Beyond ground zero, there were other signs of remembrance. The U.S.S. New York, commissioned in 2009 and made with seven-and-a-half tons of steel from the twin towers, spent the weekend at anchor in the Hudson River. On Sunday morning, it was to cruise to Lower Manhattan, stopping within sight of the new tower at the trade center site. And the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the trade center site, planned a moment of silence for 1 p.m. and issued a statement asking Americans to “cease all regular activity for one minute to reflect on the lives lost and those affected by the tragedies of 9/11.”
The New York City Fire Museum will honor the 343 firefighters who died with the dedication of the bunker coat and helmet that a Fire Department chaplain, Mychal F. Judge, was wearing on Sept. 11 when he died. Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan will have a “trialogue,” a three-way discussion with Shamsi Ali, the imam of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York; Rabbi Michael S. Friedman, the associate rabbi of Central Synagogue in Manhattan; and Michael B. Brown, the church’s senior minister.
At night, an interfaith ceremony on the south side of Pier 40, a park at the west end of Houston Street, will be led by the Rev. Alfonso Wyatt, the vice president of the Fund for the City of New York.
And still what happened on that morning seems as impossible as it did in those first few minutes, when one friend called another and said something like, “Go turn on the television. A plane has crashed into the World Trade Center.”
Or when, in the seconds before the picture came on, an anchor was heard saying something like, “Wait. These are live pictures, not the tape? So that was a different plane, and it hit the other one?”
Like the day when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, or the day when the space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986 or the day when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, Sept. 11 was one of those days that divided things into “before” and “after.”
New Yorkers still talk about what a bright morning that was, after a thunder-and-lightning show in the sky the night before. They talk about how late-summer days are forever different. They talk about the foreboding that has replaced the promise in the pink of the sunrise and so much joy in the deep blue of the midmorning sky.
And they talk about what the World Trade Center was, a city-within-the-city that dominated the skyline. Below 14th Street, it was a direction-finder as sure as the “N” on any compass. It had been bombed in 1993. The damage had been repaired, but the two buildings remained a target for Al Qaeda.