When Rick Sandelli tells new colleagues at the Pentagon where he was on 9/11, he gets their attention right away.

"You can still see their eyebrows raise when you say, 'I was working in the command center on 9/11,' " he said. "They kind of look at you like, 'Oh, you're one of those.' "

Sandelli, 52, a civilian Navy supervisor who lives in Alexandria, was one of those who escaped from the Navy Command Center, where dozens of people were killed in the 2001 attack.

He's not a hero, he said, just a witness.

"What you're trying to portray is: 'I can tell you what this was like. You may have read [about] it. I can tell you how it felt, how it smelled,' " he said. "You try to keep that alive so these people will understand that it's not going to just go away."

Four years after 9/11, people touched by the tragedy are trying to move on with their lives while trying to ensure the day is never forgotten.

"I'm pretty much the same guy I was, the same ornery guy," joked Sandelli, who is working near his old office in the Pentagon. But he believes it's important to remind people of the event's human impact. "When people forget . . . I like to kind of try to remind them. Just a little bit. You don't want to be like the ex-smoker. You just try to keep that in front of them."

Victims' families have also moved on, having babies, getting remarried, watching children grow.

"I'm a single mom trying to raise three great kids," said Elaine Donovan, whose husband, Navy Cmdr. Bill Donovan, was killed in the Pentagon. "I'm just trying hard. We deal with our 9/11 issues the best that we can. And we're doing okay. There's a lot to live for. Life is good.

"I personally have a tendency to think, while I live 9/11 every day, people out in the community have not forgotten, but they certainly don't live it every day," she said. "Then, just when I think that, I'll be out somewhere . . . people will bring up 9/11, and I'll overhear them . . . and I know immediately they haven't forgotten."

At Leckie Elementary School in the District, which lost a student, a teacher and two parents of students on 9/11, the classmates of the student, Bernard Brown, 11, have moved on to high school. And a year ago, the school's memorial garden was vandalized.

"It was hard for us to fathom that anyone who knew of the tragedy in this world would have tampered with something so precious," Principal Clementine D. Homesley said. "But we're good. We're really good.

"It's been four years now," she said. "But even though we go about our day, [and] we go about our way in this city, it's hard for me to believe or even think that anyone has forgotten. It's there. It will always be there."