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A Living Tribute to State's 9/11 Victims

N. Hollywood: Families help plant 78 trees in memory of those killed in the terrorist attacks.

June 23, 2002|WENDY THERMOS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Holding a small American flag, Derrill Bodley gazed up at the sunshine dappling the leaves of a young tree he had just planted in crumbly, brown earth.

"I can see my daughter's spirit taking root here already," he said, nodding with approval.

Bodley, a Stockton music professor whose 20-year-old daughter Deora died when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania, was one of about 200 relatives, friends and onlookers who paid tribute Saturday in North Hollywood Park to the 78 Californians known to have perished in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Deora Bodley, a Santa Clara University psychology student, was always searching for inner peace, and the graceful, silent tree echoed that goal, her father said. "Now she has found that peace."

By late afternoon, 78 saplings, each with a victim's name on a fluttering tag, had been planted in a large grassy area where friends and relatives gathered to reminisce about their loved ones.

"When there's not a body, you feel lost," said Martin Yamnicky, 37, of Torrance, whose father, John Yamnicky Sr., died on the plane that slammed into the Pentagon. "This tree will give me a place to come to."

Sharyn Romano of the nonprofit Hollywood Beautification Team, which spent seven months organizing the event and tracking down the surviving families, said the site is "the only memorial we know of" that honors the California victims individually and that attempted to include all the families in a ceremony. Her group held a smaller tree-planting event in April in Chico, and soil from there was brought to North Hollywood Park to link the two sites.

Trees were chosen to remember the victims because their sturdy trunks and limbs reaching skyward represent life, longevity and beauty, organizers said.

During a brief ceremony, Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge said, "When you plant a tree, it lives and grows and it lasts beyond our time."

Tears welled up in the eyes of Gilberto Neira of Westchester as he spoke about his 48-year-old wife, Laurie, who was killed on the first plane to hit the World Trade Center. "It makes me feel better to know that someone is carrying on the memory of the people who died," he said. "I appreciate anything that's related to all the victims. They deserve that much and more."

For Brad Burlingame, the trees are a living reminder of "the many acts of heroism that day." His brother, Charles F. Burlingame III, piloted the jetliner that hit the Pentagon.

"These trees are part of that effort to communicate that [heroism]--the stories of people who perished," he said.

The newly planted trees include jacarandas, camphor, gold medallions, Canary Island pines and cedars. Flower beds and a plaque bearing the names of all the California victims will be added to the memorial, organizers said.

Many of those attending planted trees for people whose relatives and friends could not attend.

While planting one such tree, Diane Kalmonson, 56, of Laguna Niguel reminisced about her niece Lauren Catuzzi Grandcola, 38, who was "independent, appreciative of all she had, and very brave." Grandcola died in the Pennsylvania crash.

Looking at the tag bearing the name of David Brandhorst Gamboa, Kalmonson said she felt honored to be planting a tree for a victim who was a complete stranger to her. "It's what Lauren would have done."

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