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Prayers, tears, pain, and honor

On Sept. 11 anniversary, a renewed sense of loss and resolve

In New York, Vasantha Velamuti, whose husband died in the World Trade Center, mourned at the memorial at ground zero. In New York, Vasantha Velamuti, whose husband died in the World Trade Center, mourned at the memorial at ground zero. (Carolyn Cole/Associated Press/Pool)
September 12, 2011

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This story was reported by Travis Andersen, Chelsea Conaboy, Theo Emery, Glen Johnson, Kay Lazar, Brian MacQuarrie, Bryan Marquard, and Eric Moskowitz of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Alexander C. Kaufman. It was written by Marquard.

Like the pain of loss, the rituals of remembering the nearly 3,000 killed on Sept. 11, 2001, seemed fresh again yesterday as crowds gathered in New York and Boston, at the Pentagon, and in a Pennsylvania field to mark the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

One by one the names of those who died were read at ground zero in New York City, where President Obama and George W. Bush spoke on a crisp late-summer morning so like the one they commemorated.

In Boston, where the flights of the two planes that struck the World Trade Center towers in New York originated, the American flag at the State House was lowered to half staff, and Governor Deval Patrick led families in reciting the names of victims whose lives were connected to Massachusetts.

“My beautiful, wonderful daughter Lisa Fenn Gordenstein,’’ Dorothy Fenn Grodberg of Jamaica Plain said when her turn came.

And with words like those, the years blurred for speakers and listeners alike.

“It seems like only yesterday,’’ said Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the widow of Senator Edward M. Kennedy. “It feels like an eternity.’’

Silence was as powerful as speeches. The moments of impact were quietly observed for the twin towers in New York, as was the minute another plane crashed in Pennsylvania.

At the Pentagon, a hush fell at 9:37, the time a plane struck there 10 years ago. Then a Navy chorus softly sang “Amazing Grace.’’

“As we come together this morning at this memorial, we do so knowing that the entire nation joins us in remembering the innocent lives that were so cruelly taken from us at the Pentagon, at the World Trade Center, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania,’’ Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said. “For those who survived the attack, and those who lost loved ones on the terrible day, there are no words that can ease the pain you still feel.’’

Vice President Joe Biden also spoke at the Pentagon, where a US flag hung down three stories from the roof of the west façade.

At a wreath-laying ceremony in Boston, Mike Walsh, whose 32-year-old sister-in-law Christine Barbuto of Brookline, a buyer for TJX Cos., was killed on American Airlines Flight 11 when it crashed into the World Trade Center, said of the annual commemorations: “Some years you don’t want to watch, you don’t want to see.’’

This year’s milestone was different: “It’s about the whole nation,’’ he said.

Although large gatherings were held where the four planes crashed, and in Boston at the State House and the Hatch Shell, impromptu tributes were as ubiquitous as the houses of worship and street corners where prayers were offered and tears shed.

In Manhattan, a short distance from the World Trade Center site, Michael Behan of East Hampton, N.Y., stood still on Fulton Street, Marine cap over his heart, as he watched a choir sing the national anthem on a large video screen.

“It’s a humbling day and a good day to be an American,’’ said Behan, whose son, a Marine, is stationed in Spain.

Behan and others like him mourned the dead and honored the happenstance heroes of Sept. 11, those who found themselves at the right place, at the right time, with the right stuff.

Obama, who later in the day traveled to Shanksville to lay a wreath at its marble wall of names memorial, and then to the Pentagon, began his remarks in New York yesterday morning by reading from Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear.’’

Bush, the president when the attacks occurred, read from a letter President Lincoln wrote to Lydia Bixby, a mother in Massachusetts who lost five sons, all Union soldiers, in the Civil War.

“I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming,’’ Bush read from the 1864 letter.

Bush and Obama spoke from behind bulletproof glass, and there were reminders everywhere of how security has heightened over the past decade, particularly yesterday.

In Boston, anything deemed suspicious raised concerns. Three men were spotted loading buckets into a Penske rental truck Saturday night in Roxbury, prompting authorities yesterday to stop all such trucks in Boston.

Still, a decade of security announcements turns some concerns into background noise. The faces of riders on T platforms yesterday registered nary a flicker when routine recordings instructed them to report unattended packages. But just such an item, a suitcase left near the corner of Boylston and Charles streets in the Back Bay with no one close by, drew police and bomb-sniffing dogs.

“It makes me feel a little more assured that they’re looking out for the people - the tourists and the citizens of Boston,’’ said Gabriella Gorman, 60, who stood nearby and added that she noticed extra security while flying to Boston yesterday morning from her home in Buffalo to celebrate her birthday.

Preparations for Boston’s ceremonies began before sunrise in the Public Garden, where volunteers gathered at 5 a.m. with mallets and screwdrivers to secure 3,000 US flags in the lawn in front of the Garden of Remembrance memorial.

Patrice Keegan, executive director of Boston Cares, which organized the event with the Massachusetts 9/11 Fund, called it an act of “simple elegance.’’

“It’s very awe-inspiring,’’ said Elizabeth Goldrosen of Whitman, who drove in to help. “It fills my eyes. It’s an image that stays with you.’’

Relatives of those from Greater Boston who died in the attacks joined Mayor Thomas M. Menino for the wreath-laying ceremony in the Public Garden.

“To the families here, thank you for your courage,’’ said Menino, flanked by airline pilots, police officers, and employees of the Transportation Security Administration. “Thank you for your perseverance.’’

Some 500 volunteers turned out on the Rose Kennedy Greenway to assemble twice as many care packages of sundry items for those from Massachusetts who serve abroad in the military.

This is the third year the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund, founded by 9/11 victims’ families, sponsored the event, which drew its biggest turnout, according to executive director Diane Nealon.

Holly Barrett of Salem, who made plans to participate, did not want to stay home watching TV coverage that was interspersed with images of the attacks. Instead, she wanted a chance to “do something really positive. I think you can’t thank the people who fight for us enough.’’

On the Esplanade, Joe Osborne, 27, who moved to Boston in January, listened to a musical tribute. In the past, he observed Sept. 11 alone to reflect in private, but attended yesterday because a friend was performing.

“On the West Coast, it’s just different,’’ said Osborne, who is from Seattle. “It’s not personal like it is here.’’

A financial broker’s assistant, Osborne was in high school in 2001. Now he works with people whose lives were affected by the attacks.

Near the Hatch Shell, a giant flag nearly half the length of a football field was made up of almost 50,000 fabric tiles, each with a hand-drawn message a child in Massachusetts wrote in the weeks following the Sept. 11 attacks, such as: “You may be gone in the world, but not in our hearts’’ and “America may get hurt, but it will not die.’’

Downtown, firefighters from companies across the state paraded up Beacon Street to the Massachusetts Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Ashburton Park.

“Ten years later and we can still get this many guys on a Sunday afternoon to pay tribute to their brothers,’’ said David McRae, an Easton firefighter, as he surveyed the crowd. “But it’s the bagpipes that always get me. It’s very moving when you hear them play.’’

At Logan International Airport, Gate 19 in Terminal C was closed, the sign switched off, the counter empty of staff. Ten years ago, United Airlines Flight 175 departed from the gate.

“To our friends and colleagues - forever in our heart,’’ said a card next to a bouquet of lilies on the desk.

At adjacent windows, a small crowd of employees gathered once an hour to watch workers from different divisions raise and lower to half staff a new flag over the jet bridge.

Gail Moona-Nevulis, a United customer service agent, checked in at least four of the hijackers on Flight 175, as well as two friends who were colleagues at United and were leaving for vacation.

Moona-Nevulis, who now works for United in Orlando, planned to take the day off and grieve privately, but her manager surprised her with the trip and encouraged her to spend 36 hours with her “Boston United family.’’

She spent the morning placing flowers at the airport’s 9/11 memorial and at a service in the airport chapel. In the evening, she took a turn with the flag.

“It’s a bittersweet moment,’’ she said, wearing an “Always Above’’ pin that bears the numbers of the four flights, and an “Always With Us’’ button with pictures of her friends Jesus Sanchez and Marianne MacFarlane, who were killed in the attacks.

“It’s not closure,’’ she said, “but it’s a part of healing.’’

Bryan Marquard can be reached at