NEW YORK – Americans planned beach cleanups, packages for soldiers and save-the-tree fundraisers along with familiar remembrances in three cities to mark eight years since the attacks of Sept. 11, the first time the anniversary was named a national day of service.
"Instead of us simply remembering the horrible events and more importantly the heroes who lost their lives on 9/11, we are all going to turn into local heroes," said Ted Tenenbaum, a Los Angeles repair shop owner who offered free handyman services Thursday and planned to do so again Friday.
Similar donations of time and labor were planned across the country after President Barack Obama and Congress declared the day would be dedicated to service this year for the first time.
Some Americans are suspicious about the new commemoration, though, fearing it could overshadow a somber day of remembrance for nearly 3,000 people killed aboard four jetliners and at the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon, and a field in western Pennsylvania.
"When I first heard about it, I was concerned," said Debra Burlingame, whose brother was the American Airlines pilot of the hijacked jet that crashed into the Pentagon. "I fear, I greatly fear, at some point we'll transition to turning it into Earth Day where we go and plant trees and the remembrance part will become smaller, and smaller, and smaller."
In a column in American Spectator magazine last month, conservative commentator Matthew Vadum wrote that the push for volunteerism was an attempt "to try to change 9/11 from a day of reflection and remembrance to a day of activism, food banks and community gardens."
The criticism didn't dampen spirits of those who planned to participate, though.
Sue Katz, a tour bus guide in New York City, planned a walking tour in Central Park to raise money to repair damage after hundreds of century-old trees were toppled by a recent storm.
Katz called the park "New York City's lungs" and said of the fundraiser, "This is my way to give back."
A Boston group founded by victims' family members — two of the four planes left from Boston — planned to write letters to U.S. soldiers overseas and pack CARE packages. In San Diego, Dave Matthews Band bassist Stefan Lessard is sponsoring a cleanup of Ocean Beach.
Volunteers who made firefighters' meals or helped remove tons of debris from the World Trade Center site planned to join family members to read names of more than 2,700 victims killed when hijacked jetliners crashed into the towers on Sept. 11, 2001.
Vice President Joe Biden was scheduled to attend the ceremony in New York, while President Barack Obama was to meet with family members for a ceremony at the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C.
In New York, thousands planned moments of silence four times — twice for when jetliners crashed into a Trade Center tower, and for the moments the towers collapsed.
A wreath was to be laid at a memorial to the Pentagon, where 184 people died when a hijacked jet slammed into the building. Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates were to meet with victims' family members.
The president will "speak about what the day means and the sacrifices of thousands, not just at the Pentagon, but in Pennsylvania and certainly and most obviously in New York," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
Near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed, former Secretary of State Colin Powell will deliver the keynote speech.
At 10:03 a.m., the time the plane crashed, the names of the 40 passengers and crew will be read and bells will be tolled.
Among the hundreds of people expected to attend is Jose Melendez-Perez, a Customs agent credited with refusing entry to the country a man officials believe was supposed to be the fifth hijacker aboard the flight.
The official 9/11 Commission report said hijackers deliberately crashed the plane in Pennsylvania as passengers were trying to wrest control of the cockpit.