Sunday, September 23, 2001

KFWB radio reporting for Sunday, September 23rd, 2001

Funerals All Day AM

Carlo Loffredo and David Laub plan to be back in Southern California tomorrow. But first, there are all these funerals.

Loffredo and Laub are two L.A. County firefighters I met on the subway, coming back from the Mets' game. They've been here since a week ago yesterday, at The World Trade Center. When I left them, they weren't certain if they'd be going back to Ground Zero for an overnight shift, or if they wouldn't be needed until morning.

They were hoping for the former. Work all night, and then go to funerals all day. Sounds maccabre. But one fact about life here now that will creep up on you and then overwhelm you is this. With 346 New York firefighters lost, their funerals can be lonely events. A man might die and have his ten best friends die with him.

So Carlo Loffredo and David Laub go in their place. "We'll go pick up Grandma. Or we'll get the groceries. All the errands people are in too much pain to do," David says. They are strangers, yet they are accepted immediately as family. "We're all firefighters," Carlo says.

"Worst experience of our lives," David adds. "And the best. Does that make any sense?"

Security 9:40 AM PDT

A small group of people is directed to leave bags and equipment, inside a small circle marked by eight orange traffic cones. When the circle is sufficiently filled, a black labrador is unleashed by his handler - the bags and equipment are sniffed, as the dog leaps in apparent merriment.

This is what reporters have to do to enter the prayer service here at Yankee Stadium. Fans coming out of uptown subway entrance must produce their admission tickets while still in the station, or be turned away.

The baselines on the field itself are covered with floral arrangements; the pitcher's mound replaced by a floral version of an American flag. The 'prayer for America' officially begins at Noon pacific - fifty to sixty thousand expected.

Crowd Small 10:20 AM PDT

Yankee Stadium has seen two Popes, two Cardinals, and Nelson Mandela. And in today's "A Prayer For America," it will see the leaders of a dozen different faiths, along with former President Clinton, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, entertainers ranging from James Earl Jones to Placido Domingo, from Lee Greenwood to Bette Midler; New Yorkers from Governor George Pataki to George Steinbrenner.

But how many of the grieving will it see? Nearly ninety minutes after the gates opened and just more than an hour until the introductory program begins, and perhaps less than a thousand are here. Logistics and security are extremely tight.

The field itself is overwhelmed with flowers. But this is not to be a memorial service, as the Mayor continues to insist that work at The Trade Center remains a rescue effort, and workers there early this morning insisted they'd found a small bird - still alive - trapped beneath a foot and a half of solid debris.

Bid To Increase Crowd 11:11 AM PDT

Organizers are now telling those who would attend, to simply show up to Yankee Stadium, as unofficial predictions of the crowd have dropped from sixty thousand to perhaps ten.

This solemnly and tastefully prepared gathering may have gotten lost in a group of mixed messages. For days, Mayor Rudy Giuliani has exhorted New Yorkers to "live their lives." This first Sunday of fall is sunny and warm; pro football has returned, the New York Giants are on tv; and in the other baseball stadium, Shea, the Mets are in a pennant race.

There is also the continued insistence that the 6,333 are missing, not dead - thus who, and what, is this service for?

The low attendance - perhaps five to six thousand are here now - is not because of fear. Those Mets games the last two nights drew 42,000 each.

Where Are They? 11:40 AM PDT

They are, perhaps, following Mayor Giuliani's instructions, and are "living their lives." But wherever they are, the fifty to sixty thousand New Yorkers expected at this "Prayer For America," are not here.

With the introductory program already underway and the formal introduction by James Earl Jones less than 20 minutes away, the crowd, if above 20,000, is not much above it. But five minutes ago it began to sing along with an instrumental presentation of 'God Bless America.'

The baseball infield is overwhelmed by flowers - arranged as an American flag on the pitchers' mound. Security has been strict and filled with double and even triple checks.

Whatever has kept the anticipated capacity crowd away, it is not anxiety. At Shea Stadium, in Queens, at least 30,000 are at the Mets' baseball game.

Ceremonies To Start 12:02 PM PDT

With James Earl Jones to introduce the ceremonies and Oprah Winfrey to welcome the attendees, "A Prayer For America," is about to get underway here.

The multi-faith service - leaders of at least a dozen different religions will speak - was originally expected to bring a million New Yorkers to Central Park. Then, relocated here for security reasons, it was presumed the grieving would fill this city landmark which pre-dates the Empire State Building.

But perhaps New Yorkers are out living their lives. At least 30,000 are reported at the Mets' game in Queens, mid-town is busy; there are, at most, 25,000 here.

Ceremonies Underway 12:42 PM PDT

Interspersed with silence so complete that the clack of the wheels of the elevated train 450 feet away echoes through the park, were rounds of applause interrupting speakers, and as dignitaries have emerged from the third base dugout: Senator Clinton, President Clinton, ex-Mayors Dinkins and Koch, even Oprah Winfrey. And chants of "U.S.A." and "Rudy" have waxed and waned.

It is a respectful but not an emotionally-spent crowd. There is as much applause and cheering as tears; as many flags as the never-not-startling "Missing" posters.

It is also a much smaller crowd than thought. A million were expected at the original, but insecure venue, Central Park. Perhaps 60,000 were anticipated here. Less than half the Stadium is filled.

The Chaplains 1:20 PM PDT

In his part of the invocation, New York Fire Department chaplain Joseph Potasnik reminded us that when asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, we answered, invariably, a policeman or a fireman. Now, as adults, said Rabbi Potasnik, "We know who we are. They show us who we can be."

In his prayer for the families, the Police chaplain Alvin Kass was nearly drowned out by applause when he exhorted those here to live their lives, and defend the life the victims died protecting: "Government of the people, by the people, for the people."

Many of those expected here may be doing that now. Fifty to sixty thousand were anticipated, twenty to twenty-five thousand are present. But they have been both moved, and moving.

We Shall Overcome 2:02 PM PDT

For more than an hour and forty minutes, the leaders of a dozen different faiths have offered comfort to those who are here not for a memorial but for "A Prayer For America," a phrase proclaimed on a giant banner hanging from the Bronx Courthouse, across the street.

And amid the applause and the tears, the strongest response thus far: Many, perhaps most, here, rose and clasped hands to join in the singing of 'We Shall Overcome' by the Harlem Boys and Girls Choir.

Attendance was less than half than anticipated as late as this morning; perhaps a thirtieth of what was expected if the event had been held as originally planned in Central Park. But it is clearly not fear that has limited the crowd: 41,168 were at the game at Shea Stadium in Queens, and mid-town is busy.

Perhaps New Yorkers are, as their mayor again implored them to be here, going about the business of living their lives.

The Response To The Imam 2:48 PM PDT

The dignitaries are filing out now, stopped, at this moment, as former President Clinton speaks briefly to well-wishers near the field exit by the third base dugout.

If there was anxiety here, it was, perhaps, that there might have been some backlash, or even some lukewarm reaction, to the Muslim portions of the ecumenical service.

Instead, when Imam Izak-El M. Pasha thundered about the terrorists "We condemn their acts, their cowardly acts," he was interrupted by a standing ovation. "We are an America," the Imam concluded, "made up of all the beautiful faiths and all the beautiful colors."

Representatives of more than a dozen religions filled two hours and twenty minutes of solemn, respectful, but not down-hearted community here. Yankee Stadium, expected to be filled, was half-empty. Across town, the Mets' baseball game drew 41,000, so perhaps many listened to Mayor Giuliani's insistence that they could best serve their city by getting on with their lives.

A Letter From New York 5:25 PM PDT

"Together we'll get through it." The president of the council of churches of the city of New York, Dr. Calvin Butts, thundered. "Because we are the United States of America."

It was a rousing conclusion to "A Prayer For America" here at Yankee Stadium an event significant to this community because it was, perhaps, the first one since the attack that did not live up to crowd expectations - possibly because it did not need to.

As originally planned, for Central Park, a million or more were expected. Even when re-located here for security reasons, 55,000 or more were anticipated.

Perhaps 25,000 attended - and we cannot blame fear, for another 41,000 were at the Mets' game in Shea Stadium in Queens.

Maybe that's good news. Maybe New Yorkers are listening to their mayor, who has told them so often, to best serve this city by getting on with the business of their lives.