NEW YORK – During years of going to ground zero every Sept. 11, Tom Acquaviva has seen crowds diminish at the ceremonies commemorating the terror attacks. But his determination to participate hasn’t. “As long as I’m breathing, I’ll be here,” Acquaviva, 81, said Friday as he arrived to pay tribute to his late son, Paul.
More than 1,000 victims’ relatives, survivors and recovery workers marked the 14th anniversary at ground zero with grief, gratitude and appeals to keep the toll front of mind. “It’s a hard day. But it’s an important day. I’ll come every year that I can,” recovery worker Robert Matticola said.
But if the private ceremony is smaller than in its early years, the date also has become an occasion for the public to revisit ground zero, where the memorial plaza now opens to everyone on the anniversary.
Around the country, the date was marked with what has become a tradition of lowered flags, wreath-laying, bell-tolling and, in New York, reading the names of the nearly 3,000 people killed at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pa. One woman at ground zero collapsed during the ceremony, apparently overcome by grief; bystanders helped her to her feet.
Family members praised first responders, thanked the armed forces, and prayed for unity and security. They also sent personal messages to their lost loved ones.
“You are the reason that I wear this uniform and stand here today,” Air Force Technical Sgt. Sparkle Thompson said of her uncle, Louie Anthony Williams.
In Washington, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama stepped out of the White House for a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., when the first of four hijacked planes hit on Sept. 11, 2001, striking the World Trade Center’s north tower.
Later Friday, the president told troops at Fort Meade in Maryland that he hoped Sept. 11 would inspire thoughts of what binds the country together, while Vice President Joe Biden praised New Yorkers’ resilience in remarks to bikers and police officers taking part in a 9/11 memorial motorcycle ride.