Katrina's shadow looms at Sept. 11 memorials
Hurricane reawakens Mass., rest of nation to their sense of duty
Across Massachusetts and the nation yesterday, Americans mixed their memories of Sept. 11, 2001, with reflections on how the devastation in the Gulf Coast had reawakened their sense of duty to help others. Marking the fourth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, they reflected in silent ceremonies in Boston, on bike rides from ground zero in New York, and on the flooded, fetid streets of New Orleans.
Four years, almost to the minute, after his brother, John, died aboard American Airlines Flight 11, James Ogonowski stood on another cloudless, blue morning in Boston and asked Americans to remember those killed by a fresh catastrophe gripping the nation: Hurricane Katrina.
''In the aftermath of these two deadly events, I see so many similarities," Ogonowski said on the State House lawn, where political leaders and families observed a minute of silence to honor local victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, including his brother, who was Flight 11's captain.
''Americans reaching out to each other, neighbors helping neighbors, strangers helping strangers, people volunteering, a massive rescue and recovery, common people doing uncommon acts," he said.
In New York, where the World Trade Center once loomed, relatives of the dead read their loved ones' names aloud, in a roll call of the absent. One by one, beginning with Gordon M. Aamoth Jr., a 32-year-old investment banker, the names echoed across the canyon where the twin towers collapsed in a cloud of dust and debris.
''Kenny, your legacy of teacher, mentor, leader, and coach did not die with you four years ago, but rather found new life and will live on forever," said Marie Cox. Her brother, Kenneth Phelan, a firefighter, basketball coach, and father of four, died when he charged into the World Trade Center to try to rescue people trapped inside.
In New Orleans, New York City firefighters enmeshed in the rescue of another city swollen with grief and littered with debris gathered around a makeshift memorial for their fallen comrades. Parishioners from a nearby church presented them with a bell from their steeple, which was destroyed by Katrina's wrath.
''Our country is in another state of mourning and recovery," said Joyce Ng, a software engineer and Sept. 11 survivor from Framingham, who spoke at the State House yesterday.
Four years ago, she managed to escape from the 13th floor of the World Trade Center Marriott Hotel, but not before seeing people crushed by debris and fleeing shards of glass and metal.
''I can relate to the survivors of Hurricane Katrina," Ng said. ''Just as I saw things no one should see, the hurricane victims are seeing things no one should see.
The victims of Hurricane Katrina need food, shelter, and clothing, but they will also need emotional support for many years to come."
Snapshots of the dead from Massachusetts flashed on a video screen in the House chamber, a montage that could have come from any family photo album. There was a son triumphantly lofting a diploma, a bride in a white veil casting a flirty glance over her shoulder.
''It's important that we never stop remembering," said Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey.
But that was hard for some Americans.
Kevin Rudd, 49, of Naperville, Ill., jogged past a Sept. 11 memorial in the Public Garden, embarrassed, he said, to have forgotten that it was the fourth anniversary of the attacks.
''It's fallen in the background a little bit," Rudd said. ''It's part of life to me, unfortunately."
Jessica Pierson, 23, a hotel worker from Boston, said she found herself so overwhelmed by death and destruction in Louisiana, Iraq, and Afghanistan that it was difficult for her to pay attention to the anniversary of the attacks.
''There's always new, horrible things that are happening," she said.
The memories have hardly dimmed, of course, for those who lost relatives on Sept. 11.
''We live it every day -- this is just a day that brings it all back for us all at once," said Christie Coombs, of Abington. Yesterday, she joined Mayor Thomas M. Menino in a brief, wordless ceremony in the Public Garden, where victims' relatives placed a basket of flowers on the city's stone Sept. 11 memorial.
Afterward, Coombs said it was hard for her to see Americans ignoring the anniversary of the attacks.
''The nation has moved on far more than a lot of the families have, which for us is difficult to see, when people are planning parties and weddings and non-9/11 related events on 9/11," Coombs said.
In Washington, D.C., President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney marked the anniversary by observing a moment of silence on the South Lawn of the White House. Earlier, they had attended a service at St. John's Episcopal Church across from the White House, where they joined the congregation in reciting prayers for the victims and survivors of Sept. 11 and the hurricane.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's voice broke with emotion at a wreath-laying ceremony in Arlington National Cemetery, when he noted that some of the children of the 184 people killed inside the Pentagon and aboard American Airlines Flight 77 were in the audience before him.
''Today, history is being written by the valiant men and women of America's armed forces and by determined citizens who will do all they can to win this test of wills -- for that is what it is -- to keep our children from experiencing the heartbreak and terror of Sept. 11," Rumsfeld said.
In Shanksville, Pa., near where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed, volunteers slowly read the names of each of the 40 passengers and crew aboard the doomed flight. The crowd of about 1,000 included victims' families, US Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, state Governor Ed Rendell, and the former homeland security secretary, Tom Ridge.
At Logan International Airport, launching point for two of the flights hijacked on Sept. 11, employees and travelers observed a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m., when Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
In Tewksbury, about 1,500 residents gathered near the town library to witness the dedication of a memorial honoring all Sept. 11 victims, including two from Tewksbury -- Peter Allan Gay and Peter Paul Hashem, who were aboard Flight 11.
''Time can fade our memory of important moments in history, so this is a wonderful effort to preserve our memory of 9/11," said Ed Hurd, a local real estate broker, who watched a parade of police officers and firefighters march up Main Street to start the dedication.
On Boston Common, the mood was festive as people waited under a white tent for 240 cyclists to arrive, some of whom were finishing a two-day charity ride from ground zero in New York. When the cyclists arrived at 3 p.m., their supporters erupted in applause and spun pinwheels as John Lennon's ''Imagine" played on a sound system.
Leading the pack were Susan Retik and Patti Quigley, whose husbands died on Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, respectively.
Both women wore aqua ''Beyond the 11th" jerseys. They said their ride helped raise money for widows of the war in Afghanistan.
''The words 'September 11th' are used in daily life so often, people are so cognizant of it," Retik said. ''We need to be reminded of the fact that there are other people who need help."
Globe correspondents Caroline Louise Cole and Carolyn Y. Johnson contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was also used.