NEW YORK - Even as the city finished preparations for today's one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks, outside a small Catholic church in the Bronx yesterday morning it was business as usual in a most unusual year.
For New York firefighters, it meant the sad duty of burying another of their own: With 343 of their colleagues killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, some of whom are only now being definitively identified by DNA analysis, it will take more than a year to give all of them a proper send-off. Passing the one-year mark since the attacks is, in a way, just another day.
"You're kind of looking forward to getting the year behind you, but it's really not ending," said Noel Heffernan, a firefighter in the Bronx.
"It never ends," agreed one of his firehouse mates, Michael Scanlan. "The funerals continue."
Yesterday morning, it was Peter A. Bielfeld's turn. As bagpipers wailed their mournful tunes and drummers pounded a collective heartbeat, hundreds of firefighters formed a thick blue line on Tinton Avenue outside St. Anselm's Church, just around the corner from Bielfeld's Ladder 42 firehouse. Some in formal white-gloved uniform, others in the fire-ready pants with green reflective tape, the firefighters stood in silent sentry as a red firetruck took Bielfeld's casket from the church, which was packed for his funeral service, on to the cemetery.
The bustle of the neighborhood seemed to quiet for the funeral: Nearby residents took a break from their chores to stand respectfully as the procession of firetrucks and limousines wended through the streets.
"These are our guys," said Lola Caldwell, who lives in a housing project across the street from the church. "They're good guys. It's just so sad for them to have so much loss."
Like other New Yorkers, she sees both change and status quo as the one-year anniversary arrives.
"New York is still a loud place," Caldwell said, "but sometimes now you feel this silence."
Today, those pockets of silence amid the city's usual frenetic pace will be particularly powerful. Moments of silence will be observed as part of a series of commemorations scheduled throughout the city - and the rest of the nation - to mark the anniversary.
The day's events were scheduled to begin in the wee hours of today. Bagpipers were to begin marching from the outer reaches of each of the five boroughs as early as 1 a.m., converging at Ground Zero for the memorial ceremony.
The bagpipers, who are from police, fire, corrections and sanitation departments, as well as the Port Authority, will march past New York landmarks en route to the site of the former World Trade Center, from the Bronx Zoo to Lincoln Center, from Shea Stadium to Times Square. Some will come over by the Staten Island Ferry; others will march across the Brooklyn Bridge.
"When I joined the band, I never imagined a year like this," said Joe Duggan, a Brooklyn firefighter and member of the department's Emerald Society Pipes and Drums. "I knew we'd do funerals, but this. ... "
Duggan shook his head in disbelief. He will be among the bagpipers marching through Manhattan today. He has lost count of how many firefighter funerals he has played at this year - "maybe 75."
The bagpipers are due at Ground Zero in time for the official ceremony, which will be held under tight security. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg stressed that the new terrorist alert issued yesterday was not specifically directed at New York.
"Leave security to the professionals," he said yesterday. "Go about your business ... in remembering the 2,800 people who died at the World Trade Center."
Bloomberg, New York Gov. George E. Pataki, New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey and former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani will join relatives of the trade center victims at what promises to be a somber ceremony this morning. It will begin with the first of three moments of silence, at 8:46 a.m., marking the time that the first tower was struck. Afterward, Pataki will read from the "Gettysburg Address."
Then Giuliani will begin reading names of those killed in the trade center attacks, from Gordon Aamoth Jr. to Igor Zukelman. Relatives and other parties will continue the reading, which will be interrupted for two moments of silence: at 9:03 a.m., when the second tower was struck, and at 9:59 a.m., when the south tower collapsed. The 10:29 a.m. collapse of the north tower will be marked by the citywide tolling of church bells.
As the names are read, family members will descend a ramp that takes them to the lowest level of the site. They will leave roses that will be saved and used in a future memorial.
The names of the victims figure prominently in many of the remembrances. Yesterday, Pataki unveiled a series of tribute panels listing names of those killed in the attacks. Lining Church Street and overlooking the site, the panels will be closed to the public until Sunday. Private viewing for family members will be allowed this week.
"As we continue to rebuild at Ground Zero, we recognize how important this site has become - not just to New Yorkers - but to people throughout the world," Pataki said.
Construction workers continued yesterday with final preparations for today's ceremony. A cross-shaped beam from the twin towers wreckage has been erected on the site, and lights and speakers were put in place. Television cameras were in place on terraces of surrounding buildings.
Curiosity seekers continued to stream down the pedestrian walkway on Liberty Street, from which the site can be seen most clearly at street level. Tourists scanned maps and tour guides. Various religious groups and souvenir sellers have also taken up residence.
"I was here last year and just felt I wanted to see it now," said Connie MacDowelll, a nurse from Michigan who served as a Red Cross volunteer here last year. "I can't believe how much cleaner it is. It brings back lots of memories."
She isn't sure if she'll come back today - she's staying in New Jersey - but is glad to have seen the site in its current state.
"It's good to see things moving forward," she said, "and see places that were closed now open."
Many museums and cultural institutions will offer free admission and have special exhibits, readings and musical performances. On Broadway, a number of shows have canceled for the day, while those that are playing will dim their marquee lights.
In Battery Park this evening, an eternal flame will be lit in memory of the trade center victims on a site near The Sphere, a sculpture retrieved from a fountain at the World Trade Center plaza, damaged but mostly intact.
Bloomberg will read from President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" speech of 1941 as part of the ceremony, and each of the boroughs will play host to a candle-lighting and musical program.
Many official and unofficial events have taken place as New York geared up for the anniversary. Yesterday evening, a group of peace activists began an all-night vigil at Washington Square Park as part of their efforts to promote nonviolent responses to terrorism.
"This is my way of honoring his memory," said Colleen Kelly, a Bronx resident whose brother was attending a conference at the trade center Sept. 11. "This is now my life's work."
For Kelly, who previously worked as a nurse practitioner, the pain of the year transcends any political stances.
"If my brother was killed in a car accident, this year anniversary would be private," she said. "Instead, it's extremely public. I can't look at a newspaper or turn on the TV without seeing my brother's murder. That's really painful."