The Twin Towers' Tribute in Light brightened the skies over Manhattan Friday night, after city, state and national leaders joined families of victims and survivors of the September 11th terrorist attack victims for a solemn ceremony near the World Trade Center site.
The Tribute in Light is scheduled to run until 6:30 a.m. Saturday. Two beams created by two banks of 88 separate spotlights are lit every year to evoke the image of the World Trade Center's towers. The lights were first lit in March 2002 to mark the six-month anniversary of the attacks.
This year, the eighth anniversary of the September 11th attacks was the first officially-designated "National Day of Service and Remembrance."
Friday morning, past and present leaders including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Governor David Paterson, former Governor George Pataki, New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, and Vice President Joe Biden stood in the wind and rain with survivors and family members of victims at Zuccotti Park, across the street from the World Trade Center site, to remember those lost and honor those who fought to save others.
"We have come together to commemorate this anniversary," said Bloomberg. "And just as our hearts return to those that we lost, we also remember all those who spontaneously rushed forward to help, however and whomever they could. Their compassion and selfless acts are etched in our city's history."
There were five moments of silence, including pauses at the exact time each of the two planes hit the Twin Towers, and when each of the towers fell.
"Coming here sometimes brings you a little sense of peace, but it still doesn't get that much easier," said Elsie Caldwell, who lost her son in the World Trade Center.
Family members were paired with volunteers from the five boroughs for the yearly duty of reading the names of those who died in the attack.
"Whether it is eight years or 800 years, you will never be forgotten," said the family member of a victim through tears and the rain.
There were 2,752 names read during the more than three-hour ceremony.
"In our joys and in our sorrows, we know we belong to one another," said the vice president. "'Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine,' wrote the poet Mary Oliver. 'Meanwhile the world goes on.'"
Singer Carly Simon performed and then family members made their way to the World Trade Center site. It was the first year they could not go down into the bedrock at the site due to construction. Instead, they gathered in the area where the memorial plaza is being built.
"It's like, maybe a little closeness. I don't know, since we didn't find any remains," said Sahodra Jagdharry who lost her niece and nephew in the terrorist attacks. "Maybe it brings a little closeness."
"I hope nobody forgets because we have to suffer every day," said Gina Marie DeSantis, who lost Terry Gazzani, her cousin and godfather, in the World Trade Center. "We have to live with it that he'll never walk through the door again. So I hope people really remember what we went through as New Yorkers."
Another woman at the ceremony said that the last happy day she had was September 10, 2001, the last day she spoke to her son before his untimely death in the towers.
Near the World Trade Center site, St. Paul's Chapel rang its Bell of Hope, a gift from the city of London in 2002, to begin a remembrance of September 11th that featured a service with scripture readings and prayer.
Eight years ago, the chapel provided a place for recovery workers to rest.
The rector, James Cooper, said it was fitting to ring the bell on the anniversary of the attacks.
"The tolling of the bells that we used here was the traditional firefighters' ring of five - four set rings of five - indicating a fallen comrade. It's a symbol of mourning," said Cooper.
There were two new features for the chapel's remembrance this year. A 32-foot labyrinth inside the church to symbolize the pilgrimage that leads to salvation, enlightenment or consolation, and church officials requested visitors to Twitter their pledges of volunteering and service.
Many city services who lost members in the Twin Towers, including the New York Police Department and the city Fire Department held memorial services in their station houses Friday.
The Port Authority honored its 84 workers who were killed in the terrorist attacks, including 37 police officers, with a memorial service at Saint Peter's Church in Downtown Manhattan. As the workers' names were read aloud, they also appeared on a television screen during a memorial service.
"No human loss is ever really truly consoled, and no human loss is ever truly forgotten. It just doesn't happen that way," said Port Authority Executive Director Christopher Ward. "So it's special because you don't forget but it's also hard because you suddenly do remember."
"It all comes rushing back. You think about the people that were lost that day," said Port Authority Police Lieutenant John Ryan. "You're seeing that they're progressing at the site and hopefully the permanent memorial will be in place soon."
The ceremony also paid tribute to the 13 people lost in the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.
While the vice president joined the World Trade Center site ceremony, President Barack Obama joined families for a service at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. to remember the 184 people who died when a jet slammed into the building.
"Once more we pause, once more we pray as a nation," Obama said. "Let us remember how we came together as one nation, as one people, as Americans. United not only in our grief but in our resolve to stand with one another, to stand up for the country we all love. This may be the greatest lesson of this day, the strongest rebuke to those who attacked us, the highest tribute to those taken from us."
A wreath was laid at the Pentagon memorial during the ceremony.
Obama marked the first September 11th anniversary of his presidency by sharing his thoughts about the day and the steps he's taken to protect the country.
In a message published in the Daily News, Obama calls the terror attacks a "tragedy that will be forever seared in the consciousness of our nation" and says everyone is a New Yorker on this day.
He says his greatest responsibility is the security of the American people and that his administration is taking steps to fight terrorism, like tightening border security and building new partnerships around the world to dismantle al-Qaeda.
"No one can guarantee that there will never be another attack," says Obama's message. "But what I can guarantee - what I can promise - is that we will do everything within our power to reduce the likelihood of an attack, and that I will not hesitate to do what it takes to defend America."
In honor of the National Day of Service and Remembrance, Obama is also urging all Americans to volunteer and give back to their communities.
"We're trying to answer the president's call for a nation of service and that's what you can do in the memory of those that we lost," said Bloomberg.
Federal and local officials teamed up with volunteers at a Chelsea soup kitchen to mark the National Day of Service and Remembrance.
The Agriculture Department's undersecretary for food and nutrition and Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum helped serve meals to more than 1,000 people at the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen Friday.
"I feel it's very very important that we help the less fortunate. And you know what, that's what we're famous for in New York City," said Gotbaum. "And I'm very proud of those New Yorkers who get out and help those others who don't have as much."
"It's incumbent on us to help those who are less fortunate, especially on a day that was a horrible tragedy," said volunteer Abby Katz. "It's important to give back."
Organizers at Holy Apostles, who run the largest hot-meals feeding program in the city, say they can always use more volunteers.
Meanwhile, thousands gathered Friday morning for a ceremony to remember the 40 victims of United Flight 93 that went down in Shanksville, Pa. The names of the plane's passengers and crew were read at 10:03 a.m., the time the plane crashed.
"All America today sends their prayers and thanks to you," said former Secretary of State Colin Powell. "Your loss, as painful as it was, saved thousands of other family members from also suffering painful loss."
Flight 93 took off from Newark and was heading to San Francisco when it was hijacked. The official 9/11 Commission report says the plane went down as passengers wrestled for control of the cockpit with the hijackers.
Meanwhile, a new fireboat was launched Friday in honor of all the fire department members killed on September 11th.
A launch ceremony was held this morning in Panama City, Fla. for the Three Forty Three, which is named for the number of the department's victims.
The boat is expected to arrive in Manhattan in December and will be assigned to Marine 1 and stationed on the Hudson River.
Another new ship, called the Fire Fighter Two, is now under construction. It will eventually be assigned to Marine 9 on Staten Island.
Both fireboats were funded in part by more than $40 million in grants from the Department of Homeland Security.