America Marks a Grim Anniversary
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
In three wounded communities yesterday, the nation commemorated the worst terrorist attack in American history, as bells sounded, thousands murmured prayers and the families of victims once again read the names of their lost loved ones.
On the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 hijackings, there was an aching familiarity to the rituals. In New York, family members recited 2,749 names, punctuated by violins and the wail of bagpipes, to the drawn and tearful faces of the families of the victims.
President Bush joined the commemoration in New York, journeying to Ground Zero on Sunday night to lay a wreath and then sharing Monday breakfast with 75 firefighters at a firehouse, nicknamed Fort Pitt, on the Lower East Side. He later flew to Pennsylvania to lay a wreath in the Shanksville farm field where United Airlines Flight 93 hurtled to Earth, and then he traveled on to the Pentagon.
Families and firefighters and cops in New York filed slowly down ramps into the three-story-deep pit that is Ground Zero, gray slurry walls rising around them. Bells sounded at 8:46 a.m. and 9:03 a.m. -- the moments when the hijacked planes slammed into the twin towers. On the podium, Carmen Suarez glanced skyward as she finished reading 10 names of those who died.
Her husband, police officer Ramon Suarez, died in those towers.
"If I could build a staircase to heaven I would," Suarez said, "just so I could quickly run up there to have you back in my arms."
Rain fell in Shanksville and cool and clouds cloaked Washington, but in New York it was one of those eerie carbon-copy days: a slight chill of autumn, a cloudless sky, wind tugging at flags, just like five years ago. Except that yesterday, every flag in the city was at half-staff.
Bush and Vice President Cheney paid homage to the dead. And as during the past few weeks, they did not hesitate to try to draw a connection between the Sept. 11 attacks and the war in Iraq.
New York Battalion Chief Jim Savastano, who knew 100 of the 343 firefighters who died at Ground Zero, sat next to Bush at the breakfast of scrambled eggs and French toast; he recalls talk of war. "He talked about how he's going to continue the war on terrorism," Savastano said. "He's not going to give up the fight."
Cheney observed the day at the Pentagon, where five years ago American Airlines Flight 77 rocketed into the facade, burrowing its way through the building's outer rings and killing 184 people. Five hundred family and friends of the lost sat in a cold drizzle, listening as speakers mixed soft talk of empathy with blunt calls to support the nation on its two war fronts: Iraq and Afghanistan.
Heads turned as one commercial jet after another streamed over the Pentagon's Mall Terrace, the roar of engines drowning out the voices below and sending a chill of remembrance through the audience.
"There are no words that can soothe your pain and no way that we can truly understand all the sacrifices that you have made," Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the audience.