The tears that flowed freely from Emma Hunt's eyes Monday evening at the 9/11 Memorial in Sherwood Island State Park made the horrific events of that sunny Sept. 11 in 2001 feel more recent -- and raw -- than the 11 years that have actually passed.
The service paid tribute to the memory, in particular, of the 161 Connecticut residents among the nearly 3,000 people killed that day during terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan -- a site visible from the Westport setting on a clear day -- as well as the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., and a field in rural Pennsylvania.
"We miss you and love you," said Chris Vadas, a Redding police officer and resident of Newtown, after he recited the name of his brother, Bradley Vadas, who was 37 years old and lived in Westport when he died Sept. 11, 2001. "I was honored this year when (organizers) asked me to read names," said Vadas, who named his son Bradley to honor his brother. The boy never got to meet his uncle. He was born on Sept. 22, 2001, 11 days after the tragedy.
Emma Hunt was only 17 months old when her father, William Christopher Hunt, of Norwalk, perished on a day not unlike Monday, with a brilliant blue sky and warm, late-summer temperatures.
"She didn't really know him, but she certainly misses him," said Jennifer Hunt Bauman, Hunt's widow, who has since remarried and moved to Essex.
"It's sad. It's hard to go through. It's hard to think I haven't seen my father for 11 years now," said Emma, now 12, through a torrent of tears.
The 9/11 memorial service, the visit to the beachside memorial to the state victims and lingering at the paving stone that bears her father's name was also emotional for Sydney Pelletier-Martinelli, 13, of Greenwich. Her father, Mike Pelletier, was a victim of the terrorist attacks, but Sydney said she felt comfort "seeing everyone besides me who lost someone." Her brother, Nicolas Pelletier-Martinelli, 11, said seeing the number of names on the memorial made him realize how many people died that day.
More than a decade later, the loss was still palpable for the estimated 400 people who attended Monday's memorial service -- the loss of loved ones, the loss of innocence and the loss of a sense of security.
"What a terrible tragedy it is. It's a day that changed the life of Americans. It made us a much more cautious and less trusting nation. It's a day we should never forget," said Patricia Ireland, of Westport, who came to pay tribute to a friend's daughter who died that day.
Before the memorial service, sisters Rebecca and Jessica Scott, of Stamford, combed the ground around the memorial for stones that had a natural heart shape to place on the memorial to their father, Randy Scott.
"It's a tradition. It started after we once received heart-shaped rocks from a grief group, so now we look for heart-shaped rocks whenever we're at the memorial," said Jessica Scott, whose father died in the attacks a month before her 16th birthday on Oct. 12, 2001.
On the paving stone etched with the name of Richard M. Keane, someone had left a stone on which a heart was painted.
Other mementos placed on the paving stone included seashells and shell fragments, feathers and flowers, lots of flowers. Some people left behind yellow sunflowers. A friend of Jeffrey Bittner, a 27-year-old victim from Wethersfield, left a vase of red, white and blue carnations, roses and mums.
Every relative of a 9/11 victim who attended the event received a white rose, courtesy of the students from Classic Studies Academy in Bridgeport. The children have provided $250 to cover the cost of the roses for the last three years. On Monday, they formed two lines through which family members passed as they walked from the memorial service to the living memorial near the waterfront.
"I think it's very important for us to understand the emotions, what happened on Sept. 11, 2001. This is showing us what happened on that day," said Jaden McLellan, 10, a student at Classic Studies Academy.
"It's very emotional, even after 11 years," said Gotrell McLellan, Jaden's father.
"It really does bring everything back," Jennifer Hunt Bauman said.
One woman said it was like living it over again as if it was yesterday.
During the memorial service, emcee Brian Mattiello paid tribute to the Connecticut servicemen and women who have died in overseas conflicts since 9/11, and he talked about those who are "dearly missed" on this "involuntary anniversary."
Daniel Esty, commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said Sherwood Island is the ideal location for the 9/11 memorial because it was Connecticut's first state park and because the New York skyline is visible from the site.
Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman thanked the 9/11 families for sharing the day with the public and asked everyone to "take strength from the pain we still feel today."
Not everyone who attended Monday's event knew someone who was killed that day. Ann Marie Santora, of Stamford, said she comes to the memorial service every year "just to pay respects. It affected me so much. I still get a lump in my throat from all the hardship the families went through. It hurts me so much, what they went through," Santora said, her eyes welling with tears.
Despite the emotion and the painful recollections of that day, many found comfort at the memorial and in its setting.
"It's gorgeous here. There's something very calming about the ocean and the green grass. Joe loved the ocean," said Mary Lenihan, referring to her youngest brother, Joseph A. Lenihan, of Greenwich, a 9/11 victim. The Boston resident was visiting the Westport memorial for the first time Monday.
"I actually find it peaceful," said Denise Scott, of Stamford, the widow of Randy Scott.
"It's a nice place to reflect," said Sophie Pelletier-Martinelli, of Greenwich, Mike Pelletier's widow.
"It's a sad occasion. You look at the kids; it's heart-breaking," said Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, who also looked at the panoramic view as the sun began to set, casting a vermillion hue into the sky and on the water of Long Island Sound.
"The brilliance of the sun has got to be a sign of hope and renewal and brings a lot of comfort," Joseloff said.
Meg Barone is a freelance writer.