NEW YORK – A Manhattan firehouse glistened with a fresh coat of red paint on Saturday, memorial quilts were put on display, and an enormous American flag billowed from the George Washington Bridge, all parts of the preparations for the approaching fifth anniversary of the World Trade Center attack.
And among the people getting ready for the observances was an Army reservist, in town for his baptism.
The reservist, Sgt. Larry Provost, was back at ground zero, the spot where he spent weeks digging bodies from the rubble of the World Trade Center towers after the terrorist attacks that killed 2,749. On Sunday, he planned to return to neighboring St. Paul's Chapel for his baptism.
Provost's godparents are a couple he met while working at the World Trade Center site.
"I felt I was doing something truly unselfish for the first time in my life," Provost said of his time working the pile in lower Manhattan. The experience sustained him during tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, and led him back to the church for his baptism.
St. Paul's, the 240-year-old Episcopal church across from ground zero, where the World Trade Center once stood, became a center for the recovery effort. Volunteers provided weary rescue workers with round-the-clock food, water, massages and comfort.
"It is the most special place in all the world," Provost said of St. Paul's, which escaped damage when the towers collapsed across the street. "It became what a church should be: open to everyone."
On the nearby Lower East Side, a firehouse made preparations for Monday's arrival of President George W. Bush, during part of his two-day visit to the city. Nicknamed "Fort Pitt," the base for Ladder 18, Engine 15 and Battalion 4 will host Bush for a Sept. 11 breakfast.
On Saturday, the firehouse's two front doors sported a new coat of fire-engine red paint. Contractors used power washers to clean the brick facade and bagpipers practiced on the second floor.
There were no visible signs of security as locals strolled past and visitors stopped to chat with the firefighters.
That will change by Monday morning, when Bush shares breakfast with 25 firefighters, 25 police officers from the adjoining 7th Precinct and 25 Port Authority police officers.
The president was scheduled to arrive in New York on Sunday and lay a wreath at ground zero.
Elsewhere in the city, a massive American flag was unfurled on the George Washington Bridge spanning the Hudson River.
An assortment of quilts honoring the victims appeared around the city. And in Queens, a plaque was unveiled honoring 34 local residents killed when the twin towers collapsed.
At ground zero on Saturday, family members demanded the return of the remains of World Trade Center victims. Some victims' relatives believe the tons of ash and debris taken from the Trade Center site to the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island still contains fine particles of human tissue and bone that could be recovered.