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U.S.: Americans Honor Victims, Heroes At Three Terrorism Sites

  • Andrew Tully

New York, 12 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Americans yesterday marked the first anniversary of the 11 September terrorist attacks by honoring the people killed by the terrorists and the heroes who struggled to save them.

Relatives of the more than 3,000 victims gathered with dignitaries and sympathetic fellow citizens in New York City, Washington, and in a field in a rural area of Pennsylvania to observe the milestone.

Security was strict at all three sites, and the entire country was under a heightened state of alert because of what U.S. President George W. Bush called credible intelligence indicating that new terrorist attacks were being planned for this solemn day.

New York began its observance before dawn. Police and firefighters -- the heroes of that day who lost hundreds of their own colleagues -- led parades through each of the city's five boroughs, or subdivisions. They marched in the early-morning darkness, and as the sun began to lighten the sky. They moved to the rhythm of drums and Scottish bagpipes.

These five processions of police and firefighters met at the site where the two towers of the World Trade Center once stood. There they joined in a ceremony of remembrance. At 8:46 a.m., precisely one year after the first of two hijacked planes struck the trade center, those assembled at the site observed a moment of silence for the 2,801 dead and missing in New York.

Then the governor of the state of New York, George Pataki, read President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. That speech had been delivered in 1863 in the midst of the United States Civil War near the site of one of the conflict's bloodiest battles. Its focus, however, was not rancor at opposing forces, but reconciliation.

Then the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, addressed those present, as well as the millions of people around the world watching televisions and listening to radios. Bloomberg said this anniversary of terrorism would be a day to remember those who died, as well as those who rushed to their rescue. "Again today, we are a nation that mourns. Again today, we take into our hearts and minds those who perished on this site one year ago and also those who came to toil in the rubble to bring order out of chaos," Bloomberg said.

Next, relatives of the dead joined dignitaries for the 90-minute process of reading out the names of those killed or missing in the attack. The recitation was accompanied by somber music from various performers. Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani took his turn in the reading as renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma played a selection by J.S. Bach.

In Washington, meanwhile, Bush and his secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, presided over a similar observance at the Pentagon. Shortly after the terrorists struck in New York a year ago, a hijacked plane slammed into the Defense Department headquarters, killing 189 people.

Bush spoke of the pain that Americans still feel from the loss of life, and of their country's security, on that day. But the president added that their country is responding forcefully. "The murder of innocents cannot be explained -- only endured. And though they died in tragedy, they did not die in vain. Their loss has moved a nation to action, in a cause to defend other innocent lives across the world," Bush said.

And as he has before, Bush reminded Americans that defeating the Al-Qaeda network will not come soon, and will not come easily. "What happened to our nation on a September day set in motion the first great struggle of the new century. The enemies that struck us are determined and they are resourceful. They will not be stopped by a sense of decency or a hint of conscience. But they will be stopped," Bush said.

After the Pentagon observance, Bush flew to a rural area of Pennsylvania to visit the site where a fourth hijacked jetliner -- reportedly headed for another target in Washington -- crashed a year ago. Officials say this plane went down because passengers fought the terrorists. Forty people died in that crash.

Later, Bush also visited New York to lay a wreath at the site of the attack in that city. And then he gave a brief speech to the country from Ellis Island in New York harbor, where many European immigrants first stepped on American soil.