Pipers played. Choirs sang. People wept. And at 8.46am, the world stood still

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The Independent US

We walked in step with the drums of a police band across the span of the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday as the first sun broke through the early haze of morning and reflected weakly off the glass buildings on lower Manhattan across the East River. Ahead of the drummers, two bagpipers played a lament. We walked, we grieved and no one spoke.

We walked in step with the drums of a police band across the span of the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday as the first sun broke through the early haze of morning and reflected weakly off the glass buildings on lower Manhattan across the East River. Ahead of the drummers, two bagpipers played a lament. We walked, we grieved and no one spoke.

These same pipers had been sounding their dirge through the streets of Brooklyn for most of the night. They had started out miles from Manhattan at one in the morning, heading, of course, for ground zero, where one year before the twin towers were brought down and 2,801 lives were extinguished. Similar wakes likewise processed to the site, through dark until dawn, from the farthest reaches of the other four boroughs of the city.

All of us yesterday – here in New York, across America and even around the globe – found our own private moment to pause and to remember. The moment when your skin came up in bumps and your throat became narrow. For the woman in black marching beside me, clutching a few wilting sunflowers bound in purple ribbon, it surely came now, here on the bridge, as the keening of the pipes echoed on the water below.

Or perhaps later, as our sad cortege, now a growing river of ordinary New Yorkers, passed by City Hall on Manhattan and turned on to Chambers Street, just blocks from ground zero. The tapping of the drums bounced off the high buildings and the streets were empty of the usual hubbub of the rush hour. A couple hugged on one corner, tears smearing their faces. A blond child stared from a bus bearing the families of victims to the ceremony that was about to begin at ground zero.

At the perimeter of ground zero itself, some of those family members pushed to get through the onlookers, their faces almost pathetic with anxiety. Please let us through. You knew who they were – and you instantly stepped aside – because they wore the images of their lost loved ones, printed on T-shirts or on badges on lapels.

There was no fathoming the depth of the anguish of these thousands who lost mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. Such was the incineration that awful day that 1,700 families of those killed never received any remains. For some, this day of remembrance was the funeral they had never been allowed.

And so they lined up, perhaps thirty deep, on the edge of the pit seven storeys deep, to listen and to pray. Thousands of faces twisted by grief and smarting from dust stirred by a sudden autumn wind.

Their turmoil was honoured by four moments of silence observed by the whole city at the times when the two aircraft struck and when each of the once soaring structures crumbled. And it was honoured by the slow reading of the names of those who perished. Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor, began the alphabetical roll: "Gordon M Aamoth Jnr. Edelmiro Abad. Maria Rose Abad. Andrew Anthony Abate ...".

Others who followed on the dais included the actor Robert De Niro, the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The solemn recitation, accompanied by string music from an ensemble led by Yo-Yo Ma, paused occasionally to allow a few selected relatives to share words of tribute of their own. Like 17-year-old Marianne Keane, who spoke with near-perfect composure about her stepfather, Franco Lalama, an engineer for New York's Port Authority. "I would give anything to go back to the morning of Sept 11 and tell him how much I appreciated everything he's done for me," she said. "But I think he knows that now. In my eyes he died a hero. And how much more could you ask for?"

When did that special moment arrive for each of these relatives? Perhaps during one of those moments of silence, interrupted only by the tolling of bells, not just across New York but also in towns and cities all across America. One friend, who was not at ground zero, but who watched the ceremony on television, felt his first tear when the name of his lost cousin was read out. For those at the site, perhaps it was when they were allowed down the long ramp to place a single flower in one of the steel boxes that had been placed in a large circle on the floor of the pit, almost as a makeshift altar.

The ceremony at ground zero was, in fact, the biggest public wake in America's history. It was opened with a few words from Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "They were our neighbours, our husbands, our children, our sisters, our brothers and our wives. They were our countrymen and our friends. They were us," he said.

New York Governor George Pataki, followed, reading Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

The honouring of the victims continued through all of the day. President George Bush earlier visited both the Pentagon and the site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the fourth hijacked plane came down after passengers rebelled and stopped it reaching an assumed target in Washington. But by last night he was to be in New York, the city most wounded by the attacks, to see ground zero and attend the unveiling of a bronze sphere that used to sit in the World Trade Centre plaza and will now serve as a temporary memorial to the dead. Later he was to address the nation from Ellis Island in the harbour. Concerts and candlelight vigils were planned in all five boroughs at sunset.

But the day of remembrance on this first anniversary extended far beyond this city, the Pentagon and the crash site in Pennsylvania. Schools everywhere in America held special assemblies. My daughter, like all in her class, was asked to wear only red, white and blue for the day. Companies asked employees to respect the four moments of silence. The financial markets in New York, which were closed for four days after the attacks, delayed their opening until 11am.

And thoughts were turned to 11 September beyond the shores of America. Beginning in New Zealand and at the South Pole, choirs sang the first line of the Requiem written by Mozart in his dying days at the precise time when the first plane struck – 8.46am – successively in 20 different time zones around the globe. "Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis." "Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine on them."

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