NEW YORK – Americans on Wednesday stood defiant at Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan as they paid tribute to the victims of Sept. 11, just a day after the U.S. government raised the level of terrorist threat to "high risk."
"I’ll be damned if I live in fear," said Jim Furlong, a former New Yorker who now lives in Connecticut and brought his wife and two children to the memorial. "This is my home as far as I’m concerned."
Furlong’s children, ages 4 and 6, were dressed in red, white and blue -- just like their parents.
"I made it a point to bring my family here," he said, as he held his daughter close. "I could not be afraid -- that’s what they want."
The Furlongs were among many who said nothing could keep them away on this day. Thousands flocked to the site dressed in T-shirts emblazoned with phrases like "We will not forget," "Gone, but not forgotten," and "God Bless the USA."
Despite the terror alerts, the event brought visitors from afar to share in the grief, sadness and heroism surrounding the horrific event.
"I came over here on purpose," for vacation, said Mike Nash, from Southampton, England. "We just wanted to be here today."
A pair of young French men dressed in USA and New York City clothing and hats stood next to each other, holding the American flag high. A group of 10 French volunteer rescue workers stood in a line, dressed in their bright red uniforms. Rescue dogs laid quietly at their feet.
"We’re not really scared," said one of the men, in broken English.
Vanni Solares, 26, was handing out Bible passages put together in a booklet with the towers on the front and the words, "In Loving Memory of those who lost their lives … God Bless America." Solares, who lives in the Philippines, is traveling the United States this summer with the First Bible Church Relief Ministry.
He said he was a bit afraid, and looked up "every time there’s a plane" overhead. "But I know America will have good security," he added.
It was the third trip to Ground Zero for Turranna Rice of Massillon, Ohio. Rice, who does not have a television, had heard about the increased alert status from friends and family.
"It still wasn’t going to stop me," she said. "If you’re fearful of coming down, they would have won."
Local residents who live and work in the area of downtown Manhattan said there had been some sense of foreboding in the neighborhood, but not one strong enough to keep them away.
"It’s kind of relative," said Keira Hoffman, who lives in Battery Park City, a neighborhood adjacent to the site. "We’re not really worried -- we really wanted to be here to support everybody, to support New York."
What filled the people at Ground Zero was not a sense of fear, they said, but one of patriotism and defiance -- a need to show the world the Americans would not be cowed by terrorist threats or those behind them. It was a need to physically be at the place where almost 3,000 lost their lives -- maybe to feel their presence, definitely to respect it.
Former Queens resident Richard Sachs traveled from Schwenksville, Pa., to be here for the families of victims he had met during the past year. Sachs worked as a volunteer after Sept. 11, handing out food and drinks for investigators and bereaved families as families brought in toothbrushes and hairbrushes to use as DNA samples in hope of finding their loved ones.
"I felt homage, I feel it’s necessary to be here because of my very little effort … I was still part of something that went on here," said Sachs, a former Air Force lieutenant turned teacher. "I needed to be here for closure." Fear "might keep some away, but it didn’t keep me away."
But even still, when an airplane or helicopter flew above and sounded just a little too loud, a little too close, everyone looked up.