Special Reports

Thousands take comfort in ritual

NEW YORK - Seattle firefighter Tadd Perkins stood at attention Wednesday on the Brooklyn Bridge as a parade of bagpipers led a dawn procession to the World Trade Center site.

It was the first New York visit for Perkins, a lieutenant with Seattle's Engine 27. He wore his dress uniform and had a strip of black across his badge to honor New York's mourning.

Still, he couldn't explain his reasons for traveling across the country.

"I don't know how to describe it," he said. "It just felt like the thing to do. Sometimes you don't know why."

Closer to ground zero, an unshaven Patrick O'Donoghue stood in wrinkled shorts and an open shirt next to his mutt, Fender.

Though he lost two friends last Sept. 11, O'Donoghue had not planned to attend Wednesday's ceremonies - yet he followed pipers for more than a mile after they passed through his Greenwich Village neighborhood.

"I heard the bagpipes, and it was almost like there was nothing else we could do," he said.

The audience was as varied as the moods in Lower Manhattan as the city somberly but somewhat optimistically marked the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The area around the 16-acre site that once held the World Trade Center's twin towers reflected the sunny mood of people like O'Donoghue. The site has been cleared of rubble, most nearby buildings have been restored and a bright sun shone through scattered clouds onto a crowd of thousands.

"There's all these people out. It's starting to feel like it's a new day," O'Donoghue said, smiling. "Everyone seemed to have this positive vibe. It's a little more hopeful today than yesterday."

Wind was the only annoyance. Swirling gusts tore flags from buildings, created booming thuds in open microphones and whipped up dust clouds that at times resembled smoke from last September's fires. Sheets of office paper soared through the air like white doves.

Ground zero's core was reserved for victims' families and assorted politicians. Most outside the fenced-off perimeter could barely hear the short speeches or the long recitation of victims' names against the car horns, sirens and other elements in New York's soundtrack.

Financial District regulars, their somber faces contrasting starkly with smiling photos on new security badges, fought tears as they stood in crisp black suits or designer skirts. Beside them, visitors in shorts and hometown T-shirts waved flags and snapped photographs.

Kevin Goeltz drove 2 1/2 hours from Reading, Pa., with friend Pete Slesser to attend the ceremonies, even though it cost them both a day of vacation.

"I just felt like it was a good way to remember," Goeltz said. "You still want to go about your normal day. But it's our way of giving our respect to everybody. It was worth taking a day off."

Like many things in New York City, the ceremony went at a fast pace, yet still took longer than expected.

A team of speakers, led by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, began reading the victims' names at 8:52 a.m. They were only up to the N's by 10:29 a.m., the time the second World Trade Center tower collapsed. The moment was marked Wednesday by deep blasts from the horns of ships anchored in the harbor.

The final name was read at 11:21, followed by a mournful "Taps" that had some in the crowd dabbing tears.

Most, however, collected their souvenir flags, brushed the wind-blown dust from their clothes and headed away from ground zero at a metropolitan pace. In a few moments, the sidewalks were busy again.

"That's New York," said Shannon Green, who traveled to the ceremony from her home near Albany. "New Yorkers are known to be strong. They can take a lot."

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