By Eric Brandner

NEW YORK–The scene at ground zero has evolved.

When the National September 11 Memorial opened nearly five years ago, it was a tremendously somber place in a clearing created by the 2001 terror attacks. A lot of security. Quiet civilians shuffling about, reading the etched names and sharing their thoughts in hushed voices.

Over time, it’s moved slightly toward American public space norms without losing its gravity. When we visited during USO Route 75, the memorial was filled with reverent and respectful visitors. Still, there seemed to be more posed family photos than there were a few years ago. Tourists speaking an array of languages wielding selfie sticks were more prevalent, capturing their floating heads from above as they angled their shots down into one of the memorial’s two recessed pools – the footprints of the former Twin Towers – that drain into an abyss.

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A visitor touches etchings at the National September 11 Memorial in New York.

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Visitors mil around the South Pool at the National September 11 Memorial in New York.

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While more subtle than it once was, security is still ever present at Ground Zero.

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A rose is tucked into a name etched on the National September 11 Memorial in New York.

In a way, the evolution is encouraging. In a connected world where life can seem geared toward instant gratification, thousands of people still show up here each day to take in the visual and think – even if just for a moment – about what happened and what it means in their lives.

At the memorial, we met a Marine in the Individual Ready Reserve visiting for the first time with his family. In town from Denver, he said he’d been to opening day at Yankee Stadium earlier that week, where he couldn’t help but tear up during the national anthem.

The USO has been with America’s service members throughout the past 15 years of wars. Now, you can directly send our military families a message of thanks online via our Campaign to Connect. Your messages will then appear on screens at select USO locations around the world.