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A YEAR AFTER

Southland Expresses Its Solidarity

Remembrance: In ceremonies and simple gestures, residents mourn losses and reach out to victims of the terror attacks.

September 12, 2002|SCOTT GOLD, LARRY B. STAMMER and BETH SHUSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

In saffron robes of peace and don't-tread-on-me tank tops, revving their Harleys and getting towed in red wagons, hundreds of people spilled into a public square in Covina. They were directed toward stacks of children's drawings commemorating Sept. 11.

"Dear people," began the note atop the first stack, from an 8-year-old named Lane. Above the words, in crayon, a jet burrowed into the twin towers. Everyone was crying. A woman in a purple dress running from the flames. A stick figure, jumping from the top floors. Even the sun, which dropped fat, blue tears on the destruction below.

"I'm really sorry that some part of your family died," the note continued. "What happened?"

That remained a real question Wednesday. Three thousand miles and a year removed from the attacks, even among those who profess to have recovered, people across Southern California found themselves drawn to the commemorations, to the prayers of reconciliation, to the company of strangers.

One man expressed it crossing a Hollywood Freeway overpass, carrying a large American flag and flashing a peace sign. June Paxson of Costa Mesa said she was watching the commemorations at home when she realized she did not want to be alone and drove to a tribute at the Orange County Fairgrounds.

Gloria Myles, an American Airlines flight attendant from North Hills, found her solace in her uniform--wearing it proudly to the services at Los Angeles' new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

"I think it will be many years before we forget this," Myles said. "Oh sure, 50 or 100 years down the line it will be another shopping day like Memorial Day, Veterans Day. But in my lifetime, anyway, it will be a day of solemnity, which is maybe what we need."

They came to these ceremonies to remember the dead, and to fret over an uncertain future and the new American vulnerability. They came, at many services, with the cloud of potential new wars hanging over their heads, genuinely torn between the allure of peace and the thirst for vengeance.

They came, too, to reach out to those more directly affected by the attacks.

The attacks were a national tragedy, of course, and their consequences--new airport security, potential new attacks--have been felt everywhere.

But, so far removed from the pillars of American power and finance that were targeted that morning, the sentiment here--we're sad too--has always been burdened with a certain inadequacy, a palpable sense of separation.

"There's no way around it: You had to be there," said Rick Proctor, 53, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native, now a La Verne resident and one of hundreds who attended the Covina tribute to police officers and firefighters. "But what we can do is show some support and show that life has to go on."

In small, spontaneous moments and in large formal ceremonies, the nation's other megalopolis went to great lengths Wednesday to express solidarity.

It was telling that many civic leaders rose at 4 a.m. Wednesday--that way, they could beat the time difference and begin their events at 5:46 a.m., precisely a year after the first plane hurtled into the World Trade Center.

In Echo Park, the Episcopal Cathedral Center of St. Paul's bells tolled before dawn. Like many others across the region, one worshiper, Darien Lolk, arrived in a white T-shirt emblazoned with the initials and insignia of the New York Fire Department.

"It was important for me to be up at this hour to kind of coincide with the East Coast," he said.

Deepna Nandiga, one of the UCLA students attending an interfaith ceremony at the university's student union, was en route to New York on Sept. 11 for a family vacation. The junior majoring in psychology made it as far as Washington, D.C., when the nation's air fleet was grounded for the first time. Relieved to finally make it home, she also found herself missing something she had felt on the East Coast.

"I felt like I wasn't a part of it anymore," Nandiga said. "Here, this is all about patriotism, and fear. In New York there was a sense of community that people out here never experienced. I wish I still had that."

Strong feelings for police and firefighters--those who rushed in while others rushed out--helped cement the bond between East and West. As a solemn ceremony began on the south lawn of City Hall, Mayor James K. Hahn had to pause briefly while a fire engine raced by, its sirens ricocheting through downtown Los Angeles.

"There go our heroes," he said.

Said 20-year-old Enrique Chavez of Garden Grove: "I would give my life for them if I could." He was one of more than 350 people who gathered at a memorial in Santa Ana on Wednesday to pay tribute to New York City firefighters and other victims of the terrorist attacks.

Hundreds marched from ceremonies at Los Angeles City Hall to the new downtown cathedral, where 3,000 people packed the pews for a dramatic interfaith service. Thousands of others amassed on the streets outside.

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