New York firefighter Zachary Fletcher embraces his mother, Monica Fletcher, after finding his twin brother Andre G. Fletcher's name engraved at the south pool of the National September 11 Memorial . (Photo: AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Before the sun began to rise on Sunday morning, dozens of family members of victims lost in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks had already assembled at the National September 11 Memorial in New York City.
That crowd soon swelled to hundreds as they gathered in the shadow of where the mighty Twin Towers once stood.
Some held homemade signs with names and pictures of their beloved with messages like “I love you, Daddy” and “Never Forget.” Others wore T-shirts emblazoned with the faces of family members or affiliations for which they once belonged. Of the mourned were firefighters, police officers, accountants, soldiers and teachers.
More important, they were mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and confidants whose value far exceeded a title.
As Sunday marked the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington and Pennsylvania, the dedication of the National September 11 Memorial was a ceremony of remembrance for the families of victims before the memorial opens to the public on Sept. 12.
Among the mourners were President Obama and former President George W. Bush, who stood side by side with their wives and paid tribute to the nearly 3,000 lives lost on that fateful day.
Obama opened the dedication ceremony with a reading from Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength.”
Strength was a common thread that held the families of victims together as they took turns reading off the names of all honored inside the memorial. There are almost 3,000 names in all.
After the New York City ceremony, the president and first lady went to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, to honor those who died in the crash of United Airline Flight 93. There, they placed a wreath at the memorial by the 40-panel wall bearing the names of those who died. The Obamas posed for photos with visitors and greeted children.
"Thanks for getting bin Laden," one man called out, writes the Associated Press.
Another ceremony on Sunday honored the men, women and children killed when American Airlines Flight 77 was hijacked and later crashed into the Pentagon. Vice President Joseph Biden gave remarks in the morning, and in the afternoon Obama, after his stops in New York and Pennsylvania, met with memorial visitors and family members of those who died.
Justin Duran, 20, joined his father in New York City at the memorial to honor his late grandfather, Winston A. Grant, who worked at Blue Cross and Blue Shield inside the World Trade Center. Duran was 10-years-old when he learned his grandfather had perished.
“When I got home I watched all the replays, the planes crashing into the towers. I remember it like it was yesterday.”
Grief struck his family hard, especially his grandmother, he says. Each year the family holds a remembrance dinner to honor Grant. With time and prayer, the healing process has taken over, he says.
Duran’s family now has a permanent place to pay tribute to Winston Grant.
Inside the memorial, the name of each victim is inscribed on a bronze panel. The names of the six lives lost in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing are also commemorated.
The panels line two enormous reflecting pools, each an acre across with 30-foot waterfalls cascading down all sides.
The pools sit in the footprints of the Twin Towers, bridging the connection between the events of 10 years ago and the healing that has taken place since then.
“It’s remembering what happened and why it happened and how to move on from that,” Duran says as he turns his gaze to the memorial. “That’s basically what this building symbolizes to me. It’s not taking the place, but it’s starting anew.”