LOWER MANHATTAN — With this being the 15th year since the 9/11 attacks, the milestone brought with it at least two aspects to the memorial ceremony that made this one stand out from recent past years. One was greater attendance than has been seen for a while, and two, among the attendees boosting the attendance numbers, were many first responders who chose, in this milestone year, to return for the first time.
The ceremony began as it has every year, with a respectful, but solemn tone set by the spare drumbeat of the color guard, followed by the National Anthem and the ringing of a solitary bell at the memorial site. Simultaneously, across the city, bells rang at houses of worship, as well.
There would be six moments of silence, marking the progression of that fateful day. The time of the first plane hitting the North Tower, as well as the attacks on the South Tower and the Pentagon, and the crash of Flight 93 at Shanksville, Pennsylvania were all acknowledged with moments of silence. So were the times of the collapse of each tower.
The North Tower's collapse ended the life of of Jerry D'Amadeo's father. "Sometimes, the bad things in life put us on the path to where we need to be," D'Amadeo said from the podium at Sunday's ceremony, adding, "P.S., I love you, Dad."
D'Amadeo was one of three family members who made formal statements as part of the ceremony. D'Amadeo happens to work at the 9/11 Museum, in front of which Sunday's ceremony took place.
"I feel like I get to be with my father" he told PIX11 News after his speech, "Just coming here, saying, 'What's up, how's it going?'"
Also at the ceremony, was a long line of local dignitaries, including both major parties' presidential candidates. The presence of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was in contrast to information their campaigns had provided ceremony organizers prior to Sunday.
According to the NYPD, the two campaigns had indicated that neither candidate was going to attend. On Sunday, both were present. Not only did some mourners pause to take photos with the candidates, detracting somewhat from the proceedings, Hillary Clinton had to leave around 90 minutes into the ceremony, when she nearly fainted.
As for other dignitaries, they reserved their presence at the memorial site for reflection and solemnity, but spoke publicly only outside of the site.
From Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, to soon-to-retire Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, to Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller, there was a theme. It respected the fallen, but also appreciated that without any new attacks in the last decade and a half, the parts of the city devastated on 9/11 have been able to grow and prosper.
Miller called Sunday "a day of rebirth," and mentioned a grander tower, the new One World Trade, and other development in Lower Manhattan in the 15 years since 9/11. He also said that NYPD has developed resources "that no other city in the world" has to protect citizens from potential attacks, including 1,800 officers trained specifically for so-called "lone wolf" attacks, like the ones in Dallas, San Bernardino and Nice, France.
Another theme was apparent on Sunday, as well, as was pointed out by one of the top advisors at the Department of Homeland Security.
Roger Perino, senior counsel to the homeland security secretary, was an NYPD detective supervisor on 9/11 who'd risked his life leading people to safety from the Twin Towers. After the trauma of that time, he became a civilian advisor to the U.S. Marines, deploying multiple times in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I guess I cope best through work," he told PIX11 News. " I'm still getting there myself. Everybody's got their own story."
That includes Garrett Goodwin. He's an emergency worker who spent many intense days at two 9/11 attack scenes. "I was at the Pentagon for four [straight] days, and 24 [more] here at the pile," he said.
"I haven't been back in 15 years," he added. He was among many present on Sunday who decided that this milestone was the time to finally return for the first time since 9/11.
Goodwin said he was very emotional coming back, and his description was similar to so many first-time returnees.
Even among the readers of the nearly 3,000 names at the ceremony, one acknowledged how it took a long time to come back.
"The devastation has been you so deep," she said in her dedication to her brother, "that it took us 13 years to come here to the memorial."
But, she vowed, "As long as I live, there'll be someone here to give support."