September 22, 2014

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Sixth anniversary of 9/11 brings first ceremonies away from ground zero, less emotion

NEW YORK — Victims’ families huddled under umbrellas Tuesday in a park to mark the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in the first remembrance ceremony not held at ground zero, an event that failed to evoke the same emotions as the hallowed ground of the World Trade Center site.

“I guess they mean well, but I really wasn’t happy,” said Sal Romagnolo, whose son, Joseph Romagnolo, worked in the trade center’s north tower. “I never got my son back. That’s the only place we have.”

“I get nothing out of this park.”

Around the country, Americans went through familiar mourning rituals as they looked back on the day when terrorists hijacked four jetliners and killed nearly 3,000 people.

President Bush attended ceremonies at the White House and the Pentagon, and the 40 passengers and crew members who died when a flight crashed into a Pennsylvania field were honored as “citizen soldiers.”

The Manhattan ceremonies were held largely in a public park because of rebuilding at ground zero. First responders, volunteers and firefighters who helped rescue New Yorkers from the collapsing twin towers read the names of the city’s 2,750 victims — a list that grew by one with the addition of a woman who died of lung disease in 2002.

Several first responders referred to the illnesses and deaths of their colleagues that they blame on exposure to toxic dust.

“I want to acknowledge those lost post-9/11 as a result of answering the call, including police officer NYPD James Zadroga,” said volunteer ambulance worker Reggie Cervantes-Miller. Zadroga, 34, died more than a year ago of respiratory illness after spending hundreds of hours working to clean up ground zero.

Victims’ spouses, children, siblings and parents had read names before, often breaking down with heartrending messages to their loved ones and blowing kisses to the sky. At Zuccotti Park, where the sounds of trucks and buses sometimes drown out speakers, fewer tears were shed and most readers did not speak at length — even when mentioning siblings or children who were killed.

Hundreds streamed out of the ceremony after about an hour and fewer than 60 remained at the end. The city estimated 3,500 family members and mourners turned out, down from 4,700 attendees at the fifth anniversary. Some might have been kept away by rain, a sharp contrast from the picture-perfect weather six years ago.

Ground zero “was more sacred and sad,” said Clarence White, whose brother was killed at the trade center. At the park, he said, “the meaning wasn’t as close.”

The city moved the ceremony this year because of progressing construction at the site, where several idle cranes overlooked a partially built transit hub, 1,776-foot office tower and Sept. 11 memorial.

But family members had threatened to boycott the ceremony and hold their own remembrance if they were not granted access. The city and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — which owns the trade center site — allowed relatives to descend a ramp to lay flowers inside a reflecting pool with two 6-foot outlines of the towers inside, and touch the ground where the trade center once stood.

Howard Gabler, who worked on the 47th floor of the trade center’s north tower and escaped on the day of the attack, came to mourn his son, Fredric, who worked on the 104th floor of the same tower. He has no remains of his son.

“This is where he died and we have nothing else,” Gabler said. “It’s very painful, it’s very painful all the time, but today was, I guess, worse knowing we’re not going to be back down there.

Gabler said he touched the ground, which he fears will not be available to him next year as construction goes on. “So today I kissed my hand and I kissed the ground — I’m still kissing him.”

Charlene Morgen, whose cousin, Debora Maldonado, worked at the Marsh & McLennan financial services firm, said the ceremony was different at the park instead of the site.

“The crowd was smaller, it rained for the first time — it was almost like saying goodbye. This is the end,” Morgen said.

Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani returned to ground zero Tuesday, despite objections by several victims’ families and firefighters who said he should not speak at the remembrance because he is running for president. Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton attended the ceremony, but did not speak.

But Giuliani was greeted with a smattering of applause after his brief remarks, which followed the third of the traditional four moments of silence: one each to mark the times when the two planes hit the buildings, and two more for when each tower fell.

Giuliani later descended to the trade center site, and one man yelled “Scum! Scum!” at him. Another woman from the family line said she blamed Giuliani for speeding up the search for victims’ remains. “Because of Giuliani, we never had closure,” said Sabrina Rivera. Giuliani left the area without speaking to reporters.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has presided over each of the anniversary events, described Sept. 11, 2001, as “the day that tore across our history and our hearts. We come together again as New Yorkers and as Americans to share a loss that can’t be measured.”

As in years past, people clutched framed photos of their lost loved ones, raising them toward the sky, or held multicolored bunches of flowers against their chests.

Similar scenes played out at other anniversary ceremonies.

“As American citizens we’re all looking at our heroes,” said Kay Roy, whose sister Colleen Fraser, died in the crash over Pennsylvania. “These are our heroes, and I’m glad that one of my family members happens to be one of these heroes.”

After sundown, two blue beams of light could be seen over Manhattan in the misty night sky. The “Tribute in Light” also marked the anniversary in previous years.