NEW YORK — Life in lower Manhattan resembled any ordinary day on Wednesday as workers rushed to their jobs in the muggy heat, but time stood still at the World Trade Center site while families wept for loved ones who perished in the terror attacks 12 years ago.
For the families, the memories of that day are still vivid, the pain still acute. Some who read the names of a beloved big brother or a cherished daughter could hardly speak through their tears.
“Has it really been 12 years? Or 12 days? Sometimes it feels the same,” said Michael Fox, speaking aloud to his brother, Jeffrey, who perished in the south tower. “Sometimes I reach for the phone so I can call you, and we can talk about our kids like we used to do every day.”
On the memorial plaza overlooking two reflecting pools in the imprint of the twin towers, relatives recited the names of the nearly 3,000 people who died when hijacked jets crashed into the towers, the Pentagon and in a field near Shanksville, Pa. They also recognized the victims of the 1993 trade center bombing.
In Washington, D.C., President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and wife Jill Biden walked out to the White House’s South Lawn for a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m. – the time the first plane struck the south tower in New York. Another jetliner struck the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m.
In New York, loved ones milled around the memorial site, making rubbings of names and putting flowers by the names of victims. Former Gov. George Pataki, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and others were in attendance. As with last year, no politicians spoke. Mayor Michael Bloomberg watched the ceremony for his final time in office.
By next year’s anniversary, a 9/11 museum is expected to be open beneath the memorial plaza in New York City.
Douglas Hamatie, whose 31-year-old cousin Robert Horohoe worked for Cantor Fitzgerald and died on 9/11, drew applause from the crowd when he declared that the day should become a national holiday.
“The kids today, they know when the next iPhone’s coming out, and they know when the next Justin Bieber concert is, but they don’t know enough about 9/11,” he said. “So let’s change that, please.”
Carol Eckna recalled the contagious laugh of her son, Paul Robert Eckna, who was killed in the north tower.
“Just yesterday, you were 28,” she said. “Today, you are 40. You are forever young. Dad and I are proud to be your parents.”
The anniversary arrived amid changes at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, where construction started on Tuesday on a new visitor center.
On Wednesday, the families of the passengers and crew aboard United Flight 93 recalled their loved ones as heroes for their unselfish and quick actions. The plane was hijacked with the likely goal of crashing it into the White House or Capitol, but passengers tried to overwhelm the attackers and the plane crashed into the field. All aboard died.
“In a period of 22 minutes, our loved ones made history,” said Gordon Felt, president of the Families of Flight 93, whose brother, Edward, was a passenger.
Outside Washington, hundreds of people gathered for a short, simple ceremony at an Arlington County plaza three miles from the Pentagon. First responders from the county were among the first on the scene that day.
Fire Chief James Schwartz said ceremonies like Wednesday’s – which featured an honor guard and a moment of silence – serve as a reminder of why first responders spend so much time preparing for disaster.
“I’ve often said this has been the fastest 12 years of my life,” Schwartz said. “But if you are a surviving family member, I’d imagine this has been the longest 12 years of your life, because you’re waking up every day with a hole in your heart.”
Around the world, thousands of volunteers pledged to do good deeds, honoring an anniversary that was designated a National Day of Service and Remembrance in 2009.
The organizers have said they will always keep the focus on the families, and that was evident this year as relatives gathered on the tree-laden plaza, where a smaller crowd gathered -- only friends and family of the victims were allowed.
Vicki Tureski, who lost her brother-in-law on Sept. 11, said the victims’ families will help each other through the years to come.
“Strangers who are now friends, friends who are now family, family who pull us to our feet each day,” she said. “I promise to continue to keep you in my prayers as we go through decade two of carrying the tragedy of 9/11 with us.”
Associated Press writers Verena Dobnik, Jennifer Peltz and Colleen Long in New York, Nedra Pickler in Washington, Matthew Barakat in Arlington, Va., and Kevin Begos in Shanksville, Pa., contributed to this report.
AP Photo/The Courier, Jason Fochtman Vietnam veteran Ellis Moses walks by a service memorial in Conroe, Texas, in honor of the victims and first responders in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, on Wednesday. Wednesday marked the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. ()×
AP Photo/Matt Rourke Civil War re-enactor Cpl. Robert Fuller Houston, with the 3rd Regiment Infantry, lowers his head during a prayer at a ceremony on Wednesday marking the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks at the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia.×
AP Photo/Chris Pedota Carrie Bergonia of Pennsylvania looks over the name of her fiancé, firefighter Joseph Ogren, at the 9/11 Memorial during ceremonies marking the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on Wednesday.×
AP Photo/Jason DeCrow A woman wipes her eyes after reading the name of her brother, Bobby Hughes, as friends and relatives of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks gather at the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site on Wednesday for a ceremony marking the 12th anniversary of the attacks in New York.×
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