NEW YORK --- Rites of remembrance and loss marked the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, familiar in their sorrow but observed for the first time Saturday in a nation torn over the prospect of a mosque near ground zero and the role of Islam in society.
Under a flawless blue sky that called to mind the day itself, there were tears and song, chants, and the waving of hundreds of American flags. Loved ones recited the names of the victims, as they have each year since the attacks. They looked up to add personal messages to the lost and down to place flowers in a reflecting pool in their honor.
A memorial to the 2,752 who died there played out as it had each year since 2001. Bells were tolled to mark the times of impact of the hijacked jets and the times the twin towers collapsed.
Assigned to read the names of the fallen, relatives of 9/11 victims calmly made their way through their lists, then struggled, some looking skyward, as they addressed their lost loved ones.
"David, please know that we love you. We miss you desperately," said Michael Brady, whose brother worked at Merrill Lynch. "We think about you and we pray for you every day."
Sean Holohan, whose brother was killed, called out to the 343 firefighters who died: "All of you proved that day to the world that we are still one indivisible nation under God."
Family members of Sept. 11 victims also laid flowers in a reflecting pool and wrote individual messages along its edges.
Around the spot where they paid tribute, ground zero is transforming itself. Just last week, officials hoisted a 70-foot piece of trade center steel there and vowed to open the Sept. 11 memorial, with two waterfalls marking where the towers stood, by next year. At the northwest corner of the site, 1 World Trade Center rises 36 stories above ground. It is set to open in 2013 and be 1,776 feet tall, taller than the original trade center.
The proposed Islamic cultural center, which organizers say will promote interfaith learning, would go in an abandoned Burlington Coat Factory two blocks uptown from ground zero.
Muslim prayer services are normally held at the site, but it was closed Saturday, the official end of the holy month of Ramadan.