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L.A. Pays Tribute With Stories, Tears

Angelenos gathered for ceremonies at LAX, the cathedral and the Fire Department's training center. Some share memories on talk shows.

September 12, 2006|Duke Helfand and Lisa Richardson | Times Staff Writers

All over the Southland on Monday, residents came together for speeches and and prayers to remember the day five years ago that changed America.

Offices remained open and work went on, but the day had the feel of a solemn national holiday.

Dignitaries gathered at a ceremony honoring the 9/11 dead as Fire Department helicopters flew overhead.

Others attended Mass to pray for strength and peace. Some called to tell radio talk-show hosts where they were and what they felt when the twin towers fell.

And at Los Angeles International Airport, one of the places in California most radically altered by the attacks, American Airlines chief pilot Bob Bush chose to commemorate the day by attending a memorial ceremony with colleagues in the air-travel industry, including pilots, airport police officers, baggage handlers and other airport employees.

Of the nearly 3,000 victims who died in the attacks five years ago, 182 were aboard planes bound for Los Angeles.

Some had been friends and colleagues of the 75 people who gathered Monday near LAX's Theme Building for an hourlong service of solemnity and memories.

Even now, Bush grieves.

"I promised myself I wouldn't cry today, and I've done nothing but," he said.

He recalled the moment he heard about the attacks while driving to San Francisco International, where he was based at the time. From the airport, he called airline headquarters for the names of the pilots who had been killed as other pilots piled into his small office, afraid of what they would hear.

"As I wrote each name down, somebody would say: 'That was my roommate,' 'That was my shipmate,' " Bush said, his eyes brimming.

Mourners on Monday formed a large circle around a monument installed near the Theme Building after the 9/11 attacks. Most of them clutched little U.S. flags that had been handed out at the entrance to the building or wore flag stickers and pins.

Some attended ceremonies even though they had no direct ties to the 9/11 victims.

One woman leaving a special noontime Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels said she felt tied to the event because of spending time in New York City. In fact, Wanda Delery had to fly from LAX to Newark on Sept. 19, 2001, eight days after the attacks, and said she did not let the terrorists' actions deter her.

"They're not going to do what they want to do," said Delery, of Los Angeles. "They're not going to stop me.... I will never stop being free."

That sense of resolve was the theme struck by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony at the Mass for 9/11 victims. He urged listeners to be resolute and strong in the face of terrorism. He characterized the Sept. 11 hijackers as fanatics "who hated our freedom and wanted to destroy it."

Mahony said he believes that 9/11 helped draw people together as a community. "God calls us to be neighbors to one another," he said. He suggested that those at Mass join their families and light candles Monday night, symbolizing light in darkness.

City and state officials joined in a ceremony at the L.A. Fire Department's Frank Hotchkin Memorial Training Center at the south end of Elysian Park.

The events of 9/11 "left an indelible mark on the history of our country, on the psyche of its people," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told the gathering there. "This attack struck deep in the soul of every American."

Villaraigosa said law enforcement officials from the city and the county had stepped up collaboration and intelligence-gathering efforts since the attack.

"Our tribute to the innocent victims is that we will never stop working to make the city of Los Angeles one of the most protected and prepared" cities in America, he said.

Villaraigosa sat at the ceremony with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, in front of a sculpture created from a giant chunk of the World Trade Center and a U.S. flag suspended from the ladders of two firetrucks.

Schwarzenegger offered personal reflections about the attacks, saying he flew to New York a few days after they occurred.

While visiting ground zero, Schwarzenegger said, he met with firefighters, police officers and others helping in rescue efforts.

"I could not believe how hard these people worked and the risks that they took," he recalled. "I talked to them. I listened to them. I will never forget that experience."

Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton was living in New York at the time of the attacks He said the tragedy inspired him to return to public service after having served as New York City's top cop.

"That day propelled me forward to want to get back into public service, to be once in a position to hopefully make a difference," he said.


Times staff writers Patrick McGreevy, Jeffrey L. Rabin and Deborah Schoch contributed to this report.

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