Marking The Events

Audie Cornish talks to NPR's Tom Gjelten and Don Gonyea about the events to mark the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Then, she talks to author Edwidge Danticat about our collective memory of Sept. 11 and why memorials are so important.

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AUDIE CORNISH, Host:

Right now, we're awaiting to hear more about the Pentagon ceremony. And in New York, family members of victims of the 9/11 attacks continue to read names of victims. Robert Siegel is there in New York at World Financial Center. Hi there, Robert.

ROBERT SIEGEL: Hi, Audie. As the family members have been reading the names - and as they do so, they conclude a group of names with a special message about their loved one that died on 9/11 - I can't help but be struck by, you know, among all these discussions of unity in the country, the unity that is this country and this city, the vast variety of names you're hearing - the Spanish names, and Irish names, and long Italian names and Slovak names.

It's a reminder just of what a great, diverse country and city this is, and how many people from very different experiences come here to live and to work. They're all being remembered in this reading of the names. And we are approaching the moment at which we'll recall, as you said, the falling of the South Tower. When that happened, Audie, the building collapsed and a cloud of dust - in effect, the pulverized building rose above Lower Manhattan.

And it hung there from that moment just before 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning, really until a strong rain came on Friday of that week. Until then, as you walked down toward ground zero, you stepped out from under a sunny sky and into this gloom created by the artificial cloud of the pulverized dust of first, the South Tower and then of course later, the North Tower.

CORNISH: And for those of us who watched it on TV at that time, some of the more disturbing and gripping images that we saw came from those moments.

SIEGEL: Yes.

CORNISH: Seeing people covered with ash, and covered with debris from head to toe.

SIEGEL: Yes. We now know, of course, what happened. But at the time, people wondered would the building be able to withstand this kind of a crash into it. And neither tower did. The island is pretty narrow down here, and the streets are pretty narrow, and those panicked screams of oh, my God that you just played a moment ago were people trying to get as far away as they could from a wave - a tsunami of dust that was pushed out from the - first, the South Tower as it fell.

And of course, that's when the largest - at first, when the large number of the deaths from the World Trade Center were recorded. It was a horrible moment, just a horrible moment. And it is about to be marked with another moment of silence, after which you'll be hearing from the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie.

It's not just that this is the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that operated the World Trade Center. It's also that a tremendous number of people who worked there came across the Hudson from New Jersey. And there are towns in New Jersey that were as hard hit with losses that day as any neighborhood of New York was. And it's really as much a story about people from New Jersey as from the city of New York.

CORNISH: This is live, special coverage of the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. I'm Audie Cornish.

Around the country and around the world, people are marking the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Official ceremonies began early today in New York City at ground zero, where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood.

This morning, amid tight security, with presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush in attendance, the somber day began with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus singing the National Anthem.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER")

BROOKLYN YOUTH CHORUS: (Singing) Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light, what so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming? Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight...

CORNISH: At 8:46 a.m., the time American Airline Flight 11 struck the north tower, came the first of the day's moments of silence.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

CORNISH: Then, President Obama read Psalm 46.

P, Host:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea, though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling, there is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the most high. God is in the midst of her. She shall not be moved. God shall help her just at the break of dawn. The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved. He uttered his voice. The earth melted. The Lord of hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge. Come, behold the works of the Lord, was made desolations in the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth. He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two. He burns the chariot in fire. Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge.

CORNISH: Nearly 3,000 people were killed on this day 10 years ago. Today, their loved ones read their names at ground zero.

FEMALE ONE: Gordon A. Aamoth, Jr.

FEMALE TWO: Edelmiro Abad.

ONE: Marie Rose Abad.

TWO: Andrew Anthony Abate.

ONE: Vincent Paul Abate.

CORNISH: President George W. Bush read a letter written by Abraham Lincoln.

P: In the fall of 1864, he learned that a widow had lost five sons in the Civil War and he wrote her this letter: Dear Madam, I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the adjutant general of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming, but I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our heavenly father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the alter of freedom. Yours very sincerely and respectfully, Abraham Lincoln.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMAZING GRACE")

CHOIR: (Singing) Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.

CORNISH: Ceremonies continued with the singing of "Amazing Grace" at the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., where a third passenger plane commandeered by terrorists crashed on September 11th.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMAZING GRACE")

CHOIR: (Singing) ...now am found. Was blind, but now I see.

CORNISH: And in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, a ceremony is underway at the site where the fourth hijacked plane crashed.

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