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Day of grief, resolve

Wednesday is a time for flags, calls for peace, solemn tributes, ribbons and balloons.

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 12, 2002

PORT RICHEY -- After a year of prayer, tears, and stocking up on red white and blue hats and T-shirts, there was little left for Fred Colucci to do.

So at 8 a.m. Wednesday, he took a stand for his country on a curb of U.S. 19, American flag in hand, dozens of supporters by his side, morning commuters whizzing by under the gray raining sky.

"There's not much else you can do," said Colucci, 70, who organized the event with the Knights of Columbus.

"This is what we stand for. This is what we do at war. You wave your flag, your true colors," he said. "We've got to let them know that we're strong, now more than ever. We can't let the enemy take us over."

A chorus of car horns greeted the patriots all morning.

A line of flag wavers huddled under umbrellas, sharing their grief, talking about the grandchildren who witnessed the attack and about in-laws who worked in the twin towers.

"There's a hole in everybody's heart," said Barbara Kelly, 54, who was visiting from New Jersey and waving a flag. "It will never be the same. "

* * *

At St. Michael's Church in Hudson, people filled the pews to grieve for those who were lost in the attacks. They heaved heavy sighs, and wore tear-stained cheeks and lots of red, white and blue clothing.

Kathleen Doyle, 23, came to church Wednesday to feel a sense of community, "to be with people that believe in the same thing."

State Rep. Mike Fasano told the crowd that the nation is bolder than it was a year ago because it remembers where priorities should be, and because Americans cherish their freedom more dearly.

Priests asked parishioners to believe and to pray for peace, for the grace to forgive and for healing.

A handful of people remained kneeling in prayer as the crowds filed out of the church, as the bells tolled and the bagpipes blasted.

Ed McCoy, 74, said he had come to pay his respects.

"It's almost like a duty."

* * *

At the Juice & Java cafe in New Port Richey, owner Rose Ziongas left out a bowl of red, white, blue and purple ribbons for her customers. She made a point to tell them that the purple was a symbol of sorrow.

"It's a black day," Ziongas, 53, said as tears welled up in her eyes. She looked out at the drizzling skies. "Even God knows -- it's raining. I could say thank God that none of my people were killed, but it doesn't matter. All those people are our people."

* * *

Asking 50 preschoolers at Wonder Years Childcare for a moment of silence was a bit much.

But asking them to understand what happened last Sept. 11 wasn't a stretch at all.

"The planes flied into the building," said Cheyenne Gainey, 4. "The people got hurt in the building."

"The Army guys and the firemen went in," added Savannah Wynn, also 4. "Kids and parents were in there too. They got hurt. They went to heaven. It's sad."

Marlene MacDonald, who owns the New Port Richey day care center, wanted to plan a tribute in terms the children could understand. So she gave each child a balloon to send to all the people in heaven.

"They're going to get a balloon. And it's going to make them happy that we're thinking of them," MacDonald said. "And it's going to let all the mommies and daddies know we love them and care for them."

* * *

Even as the skies dumped the day's heaviest rains on Sims Park Wednesday evening, the crowds stood still to say the Pledge of Allegiance and to hear the Ridgewood High School Band play God Bless America.

They listened to Kathleen Stanton tell about her narrow escape from the second World Trade Center tower. She told of fleeing an 8 a.m. meeting on the 92nd floor after someone came in and said there was a fire. When she reached the 76th floor, the building shook as if there had been an earthquake. The second hijacked plane had slammed into the tower.

For Barbara Lynch, 50, the remembrance ceremony marked the end to a difficult day, one she spent in prayer, watching TV tributes, and calling her children to make sure they were okay.

Lynch lost close friends -- father and son firefighters -- in the attacks. Rain couldn't keep her away Wednesday night, she said.

"Nothing could stop me."

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