Three attacks, ten years of healing: Still mourning at Ground Zero 

click to enlarge One World Trade Center towers over the lower Manhattan skyline, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011 in New York. The skyscraper is now 76 floors and will reach 104 floors. September marks the tenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan) - ONE WORLD TRADE CENTER TOWERS OVER THE LOWER MANHATTAN SKYLINE, TUESDAY, AUG. 2, 2011 IN NEW YORK. THE SKYSCRAPER IS NOW 76 FLOORS AND WILL REACH 104 FLOORS. SEPTEMBER MARKS THE TENTH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ATTACKS OF SEPTEMBER 11, 2001. (AP PHOT
  • One World Trade Center towers over the lower Manhattan skyline, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011 in New York. The skyscraper is now 76 floors and will reach 104 floors. September marks the tenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. (AP Phot
  • One World Trade Center towers over the lower Manhattan skyline, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011 in New York. The skyscraper is now 76 floors and will reach 104 floors. September marks the tenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

There is a hazy line between remembrance and fixation for New Yorkers contemplating the 10th anniversary of the deadliest attack ever committed on U.S. soil.

A decade after terrorists crashed hijacked jetliners into the World Trade Center, bringing down the twin towers, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg this week was urging residents to at least stop referring to the site as “Ground Zero.” The fatalistic phrase, as Bloomberg sees it, is stuck in the past and ignores the new life emerging at the site, including a massive new commercial center and a nearly completed monument to those who died.

“I don’t believe they would ever want us to be in perpetual mourning,” Bloomberg said Thursday at a ceremony in Manhattan honoring the New York police officers who perished on Sept. 11, 2001, and those who have since died of medical problems linked to toxic dust that enveloped the cleanup effort.

But having lived so long with the indelible images of men and women leaping from the towers to their deaths and of iconic skyscrapers reduced to rubble some New Yorkers question where the line is between paying tribute and getting on with life.

“It’s like he is trying to take all the things that people recognize from that day and put a fresh polish on it,” said retired firefighter Harry Gillen at the Engine 279 Firehouse in Brooklyn, his second home of sorts. “It’s always going to be Ground Zero when you talk to firefighters. There’s nothing wrong with that. Let us call it what it is.”

From the “We will never forget” signs that adorned apartment windows in Harlem to the small American flags lining front yards in Staten Island to the photos of the dead hung with great reverence in Brooklyn firehouses, many New Yorkers appear stunned that 10 years have actually passed.

On the day of the attacks, New York Fire Department Lt. Chuck Margiotta was driving back to his Staten Island home after a 24-hour shift when he saw an orange blur overtaking the World Trade Center. He turned around and phoned his mother. “Ma,” he said, “it’s bad. I love you. I’ll call you later.” They were the Ivy League football star’s final words to his family.

“I’ve found over these 10 years that the anger is the only thing keeping some of these people alive,” said his brother, Mike Margiotta, who for five years had trouble accepting his brother’s death. “What helped me move on was knowing that my parents needed me. My brother’s kids needed me. I had to find a way to be there for everyone.”

Ground Zero — or The World Trade Center and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, as Bloomberg prefers — is certainly a far different place 10 years removed from the attacks.

The 16-acre tract in Lower Manhattan that was once described as “the pit” is now home to a memorial that opens Sunday, the anniversary of the attacks, and a new pair of skyscrapers under construction.

Yet, the memories are still raw for many who walk past the site on a daily basis. A New Yorker who recently saw a tourist smiling while posing for a photograph in front of the World Trade Center site grew instantly agitated.

“This isn’t [expletive] Disneyland, pal,” he shouted at the visitor.

bhughes@washingtonexaminer.com

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