Special Reports

Americans gather by the thousands - and by the handfuls

On a bleak day clouded by mourning and memory, Americans marked the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks by gathering Wednesday for solemn public rites that revealed the nation's undiminished grief.

From the thousands who marched down into the scarred pit of New York's ground zero and up to the newly renovated walls of the Pentagon, to the tiny crowds who attended a firehouse ceremony in Coventry, Ohio, and hundreds of other memorials across the country, Americans paid respects to the 3,000 who died, and recalled a devastating day that echoed a year later with fresh warnings of new terror.

"I came to show my solidarity," said Lori Konrad, a US Airways attendant who joined President Bush and 5,000 mourners on a wind-rippled oat field in Shanksville, Pa. - the speck of a town where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed, killing hijackers and the passengers who fought back. "This is like losing part of the family. When I look at the memorial where people have left so many keepsakes in memory of the crew and passengers, it makes me want to cry."

Even those who busied themselves in the routine of work, or retreated into private reflection, were unable to avoid the relentless tug of the day's solemnity and the spiraling dread of new terror threats.

American businesses marked the day with varying degrees of homage.

Flags flew at half-staff outside McDonald's restaurants. Kmarts opened two hours late. General Motors held media ads. Even the Web mourned as Yahoo's home page was bordered in black and the auction Web site eBay displayed a virtual flag.

Air passengers were among the few Americans who could avoid the gripping televised images of mourning beamed from the cement valleys of Lower Manhattan - and the mirror-image rites that the rest of America offered as their own salve for a lonesome day.

If New York had its burly, silent bagpipers and string-quartet dirges, Washington had its Pentagon parade ground of military men and Shanksville had its impromptu memorial fence of fluttering flags and baseball caps, hundreds of other American towns found their own homespun ways to pay homage.

Firetruck horns in Waco, Texas, blared in solidarity. Navy fighter jets roared over the harbor in Norfolk, Va. Park Ridge, Ill., residents planted "Liberty trees." Ancient church bells tolled all morning in tiny Winthrop, Maine - as they did in churches across the country - for each moment of impact of the four doomed planes. Firefighters in Bethesda, Md., snapped to attention outside their station, saluting a half-staff flag and idling rush-hour traffic as respectful motorists slowed in appreciation.

In Coventry, Capt. John Dolensky, surrounded by his 16-member fire department, all bedecked in dress double-breasted uniforms, intoned the names of 343 firefighters who perished at the World Trade Center. It took him 20 minutes.

All day, every news channel offered grim, year-old footage of the twin towers afire and fresh images of mournful bagpipers and heartbroken families, reminding even casual viewers that attention had to be paid.

Bells tolled, too, outside the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., interrupting the homily delivered by Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa on behalf of the Sept. 11 victims.

"Our hearts still go out in compassion and sympathy," Tutu said, "as you still wrestle with the consequences of those traumatic events of that day, that awful day."