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Orange County

Commemorating the Sept. 11 Attacks

Events: From wreath- layings to a cul-de-sac dinner, communities will honor those who died.

September 08, 2002|JANET WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will be marked by an array of events across the Southland in what some experts say is a natural next chapter in dealing with an unprecedented collective trauma.

Besides nonstop television remembrances, the doors of mosques, temples and cathedrals will be open for interfaith services through Wednesday, the anniversary date.

Surfers will paddle from San Onofre State Beach to scatter World Trade Center debris in the Pacific. At Rancho Fullerton Mobile Home Estates, residents will hold a "bring-your-own-candle" community gathering.

Whether people sit in front of the television as the jarring plane crashes are replayed, or attend an event where a wreath is laid, a flag lowered, or bells tolled, the glut of electronic and live events scheduled for Wednesday constitutes a uniquely American "commemoration ceremony," said Lynn Rapaport, a Pomona College sociologist who studies collective memory.

"One way that people deal with trauma is to commemorate it," she said.

Rapaport said such rituals are important for cultures to write their histories.

"We choose what we want to remember as a society--and what we want to forget," she said, noting that mainstream recognition--and commemoration--of the Holocaust, for instance, has grown over several decades.

While American Legion members, Leisure World retirees and others of that generation have never stopped marking anniversaries connected with World War II, members of the baby boom and "X" generations now also understand how it feels to be collectively attacked, and to want to mourn, Rapaport and other experts said.

On Wednesday, relatives of victims of the attacks will lay a wreath off Newport Beach from a tall ship at 8:46 a.m., the moment on the East Coast that the first attack occurred.

Not everyone feels the same emotional pull. Some say they already feel overwhelmed by the barrage of scripted memory, and say the media tarnish rather than commemorate the events.

Other more personal events are planned throughout Orange County.

Cheridah Heckman, 74, of Fountain Valley felt so strongly about the tragedy that she has invited her block to a sit-down candlelight dinner in the cul-de-sac outside her home Wednesday evening.

She said she is doing it because she was moved by the anonymous gesture of a neighbor a year ago, who, on the Friday after Sept. 11, "left a whole bunch of big, beautiful white candles on the doorstep of every house in our tract and the next" along with a note asking everyone to come out of their homes that evening and light them in a moment of silence.

One thing Heckman does not want to see is a national holiday on Sept. 11. As someone who vividly remembers the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, she said that the Veterans and Memorial holidays don't commemorate much of anything, except perhaps American capitalism. "It's just another shopping day," she said.

Last year's spontaneous gestures in response to the attacks have largely been replaced by scheduled events.

The Orange County Fire Authority has been so overwhelmed with requests for firefighters to attend events from Aliso Viejo to Yorba Linda that it has had to turn down some to ensure that enough staff is on hand to respond to an emergency.

"I personally feel that everybody has been affected to one degree or another by the tragic events a year ago," said Fire Authority Capt. Stephen Miller. "People feel the need to connect or show their respect, or somehow show their feelings. [And] they want to show they care about what happened to firefighters, police officers and others."

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Staff writer Marjorie Hernandez contributed to this report.

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