9/11 ceremony onlookers remember

An NYPD officer patrols the street in front of Zuccotti Park for the Sept. 11 memorial service in Lower Manhattan.

An NYPD officer patrols the street in front of Zuccotti Park for the Sept. 11 memorial service in Lower Manhattan. Photo by Rachel Wise.

Emmett Newton was driving his car in Lower Manhattan when he noticed smoke billowing into the sky. When he glanced over, he saw the two 110-story towers of the World Trade Center engulfed by flames.

He sat and stared in disbelief until the first tower began to tumble down.

“I saw a flash and heard a rumble,” he said, looking over to where the buildings used to stand. “I was horrified.”

Eight years later, Newton, 49, of Newark, N.J., was one of hundreds lining the street across from Zuccotti Park to witness the 9/11 memorial ceremony.

The space within the park was reserved for family members of the deceased and volunteers. Anyone without special credentials had to brave the wind and rain while standing along a crowded street a block away from the park.

But most didn’t seem to mind.

“Yeah, the weather’s kind of messy, but we’re still here,” Newton said.

Douglas Bruce, 59, is new to New York, but he said coming together with the rest of the city was something he couldn’t pass up.

“The fact that New Yorkers would come out today in the freezing rain and wind is remarkable,” Bruce said. “I think it really says something about the strength of community.”

Bruce was teaching a class at University of Texas when he first heard the news eight years ago. And even from across the country, he felt that same sense of community.

“I remember having an overriding feeling, just wishing there was something I could physically do to help. I mean, we could send money and prayers, but the hardest part was not being able to do something,” he said.

Bruce said his urge to give back persisted for years after the tragic event, so much that he was compelled to work on a documentary for the History Channel, “Countdown to Ground Zero.”

“Working on that film gave me a real and deep connection to this day, to these people,” he said.

Andrea Hall, 41, of Newark, N.J., recalled most vividly the connection she felt to her neighbors.

“It was the one day everybody in the world was unified,” she said, slowly shaking her head. “Strangers were embracing each other. There was prayer in schools. It was incredible, but it’s a shame it took tragedy to bring us all together.”

And even though unity is one thing some remember, it’s the tragedy of it all that most others still can’t shake.

“It doesn’t matter how hard I try, I can still see it,” Newton said. “I remember watching people jump out of the windows because they didn’t want to burn alive. I saw the firefighters watering down the streets then running into buildings — they all died.”

And that sense of tragedy extends beyond New York and even the nation. People from across the world say they share the pain so many Americans felt that day.

Tanya Guymer, 47, of Australia, flew to New York just for Sept. 11 to “see and feel what all Americans are feeling.” The anguish is still fresh in her memory, she said.

“The day it happened, people even in Australia were devastated. Everyone stopped going to work and just watched the TV,” Guymer said, shaking her head. “My birthday was only a few days away … but I don’t celebrate it anymore. It’s too sad.”

But despite the sadness, there are some things we have to keep in mind, Guymer said.

“It’s tragedy like this that makes everyone stronger. We all pull together,” she said. “It goes to show, we’re all on this earth together; it doesn’t matter what country you come from.”

“Yes, we live in a world where people do cruel, unspeakable things,” Bruce said, a theme central to the 9/11 documentary he worked on. “But there were a lot of lessons learned, lessons that should not be forgotten so quickly — not five, eight, ten, twenty years later.”

And for most, that won’t be a problem.

“(Today) is a day to remember. Remember the people. Remember our strength,” Newton said. “Remember never to forget.”