Firefighters from across the country crowded the sidewalks around St. Patrick's Cathedral on Saturday for a memorial service for their brethren killed in the 9/11 attacks, wearing their uniforms and saluting as 343 flags carried by an honor guard passed, one for each firefighter who died.
Chris Pace came from Las Vegas with 20 other members of his fire company. They stood on Fifth Avenue in black dress uniforms — all had paid their own way.
"We came here to let these guys know we haven't forgotten about them, 10 years later," the 41-year-old Pace said. "If it had happened in our city, we would have run into that building, too. And they would have been here for us now."
The nation's largest fire department was holding the service the day before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The crowd fell silent as the huge honor guard marched down Fifth Avenue and into the church.
During the service, a bespectacled Patrick Lyons, nearly 10 years old, spoke steadily and strongly about his father, Lt. Patrick Lyons of Squad 252 in Brooklyn, who died before he was born.
"Dear Dad: I just missed meeting you. ... I want you to know that Mommy is doing a great job of raising me," he said. "I know you are in heaven and always watching over me. I love knowing you are a hero. I wish I could have met you."
The FDNY is stronger and better now, said Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano, who was an assistant chief during the attack. He spoke of the tragedy of those who were sickened after working at ground zero.
"The world may have called them brave, but we just call it doing our jobs," he said. "They died doing what they joined the fire department to do: helping others."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg praised the courage of the department, which has about 14,000 uniformed members.
"In the FDNY, our city is lucky to have a group of men and women who can overcome natural fear to serve others," he said.
A polished antique fire engine, with Engine company 343 on its side, was parked in front of the cathedral.
Many of the firefighters from out of town worked at ground zero in the days after the attack, said John Murphy, 50, a battalion chief from Brooklyn.
"People all over the country jumped in their cars and came to New York," he said. "So we know each other from working down there together."
He recalled the horror of watching the buildings collapse on television and knowing that hundreds of comrades were inside.
"We knew it was bad. We didn't know the numbers, but we knew a lot of people just died," Murphy said.
At the service, Ashley Fodor, daughter of Lt. Michael Fodor of Ladder 21, talked about how her father loved telling stories. After he died in the trade center attack, she later lost her mother to breast cancer. She lives in Manhattan now, which makes her feel close to her dad.
"When I walk down the streets I can still hear his voice in my head," she said.
The ceremony was one of many public and private events around the city held ahead of the anniversary.
Families, friends and strangers clasped hands as a bell clanged at 8:46 a.m. to signify the time the first hijacked plane crashed into the World Trade Center's north tower. The group formed a single-file line that snaked along the southern tip of Manhattan and through an exhibition of American flags, displayed to honor the dead. Participants wore white T-shirts with light blue image of the towers and the phrase "hand-in-hand, remembering 9/11."
Manhattan resident Dino Fusco brought his two daughters to the event. The 45-year-old father says it's important for them to pay their respects and to learn about the country's history, even when it's sad.
"We lost friends, we felt the loss of the city," he said. "So we don't want to forget. It's important to mark the day."