Drawing on the spirit that spurred volunteers to rush to the burning World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Americans looked for ways to help each other on a day better known for mourning the thousands of people killed in the nation’s worst terrorist attack.
Teresa Mathai, whose husband, Joseph Mathai, died at the World Trade Center eight years ago Friday, planned to grieve at a morning wreath-laying ceremony in Boston and hear his name read out loud. Then she planned to install drywall at a low-income home in south Boston with Habitat for Humanity, one of thousands of volunteer efforts planned since Sept. 11 was declared a national day of service.
“Everyone has a different way of mourning,” she said. “Some people keep it absolutely sacred. For me, this is something that gives us solace.”
The combination of mourning and national giving was troubling to some who feared the volunteerism would overshadow a somber day to remember the four hijacked jetliners that crashed into the twin towers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, killing nearly 3,000 people, most in New York.
“When I first heard about it, I was concerned,” said Debra Burlingame, whose brother was the pilot of the American Airlines jet that crashed into the Pentagon. “I fear, I greatly fear, at some point we’ll transition to turning it into Earth Day where we go and plant trees and the remembrance part will become smaller and smaller and smaller.”
Thousands were expected at now-familiar ceremonies in New York, at the Pentagon and at the crash site ofUnited Airlines Flight 93 in a Shanksville, Pa., field.
At a park southeast of ground zero, family members were to join with volunteers who made firefighters meals or removed tons of debris from the smoldering trade center site to read victims’ names. Four moments of silence were planned in New York — for when jetliners crashed into each tower and for when each tower collapsed. Vice President Joseph Biden was to attend the ceremony.
A wreath was to be laid at a memorial to the Pentagon, where 184 people died when a jet slammed into the building. President Barack Obama and Department of Defense Secretary Robert Gates were to meet with victims’ family members.
The president would “speak about what the day means and the sacrifices of thousands, not just at the Pentagon, but in Pennsylvania and certainly and most obviously in New York,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday. The president on Thursday pledged to “apprehend all those who perpetrated these heinous crimes, seek justice for those who were killed and defend against all threats to our national security.”
In Pennsylvania, the names of the 40 passengers and crew of United 93 were to be read at 10:03 a.m., the time the plane crashed.
Jose Melendez-Perez, a customs agent credited with refusing U.S. entry to a man officials believe was supposed to be the fifth hijacker aboard the flight, was going to the site for the first time. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell was giving the keynote speech.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who will also be at the memorial service in New York, said Friday that the anniversary is a “day of sorrow and tragedy, but also a day of heroism and unity,” and that remembrance and volunteerism are fitting memorials.
“By serving our communities and our country today and throughout the year, we commemorate our past while also preparing for our future,” Napolitano said.
Across the country, a fundraiser to repair storm damage at Central Park, beach cleanups and repairs ofhomeless shelters were among the organized efforts to give back. Obama and Congress declared Sept. 11 a day of service earlier this year.
A Cleveland service organization planned to paint pies cooling, flower vases and sleeping cats resting on windowsills on boarded-up, abandoned properties in a Slavic neighborhood.
A Boston group founded by victims’ family members — two of the four planes left from Boston — planned to write letters to U.S. soldiers overseas and pack care packages. Over 100 volunteers in San Jose, Calif., planned to plant fruit and vegetable gardens for low-income families.
The attacks killed 40 people in Pennsylvania, 184 at the Pentagon and 2,752 in New York.
This year, one new name will be read — a victim added to New York’s death toll in January. The medical examiner’s office ruled that Leon Heyward, who died last year of lymphoma and lung disease, was a homicide victim because he was caught in the toxic dust cloud just after the towers collapsed.
It’s the second time the city has added to the victims’ list someone who died long after Sept. 11, ruling that exposure to toxic dust caused lung disease.