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L.A. quietly marks 9/11 anniversary

At the city's fire training center, a piece of the World Trade Center serves as a backdrop for one ceremony.

September 12, 2007|Carla Hall | Times Staff Writer

Though they happened thousands of miles away, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 would be difficult to forget for anyone passing in or out of the Los Angeles Fire Department's training center.

Inside the entrance to the historic building that is part of the Frank Hotchkin Memorial Training Center in Elysian Park is a towering slab with names of firefighters who died on 9/11. And outside stands a 20-foot-tall, 2,300-ton remnant of the World Trade Center.

"It's probably the largest piece west of the Mississippi," Jeffrey Neu of Manhattan Beach said proudly as he stood before it with his Rottweiler, Lucy. Neu, who works in steel recycling, salvaged the chunk -- once part of the bottom of a World Trade Center tower -- from his family's steelyard in New Jersey and gave it to the Fire Department.

It was fitting, then, that the stark, thick piece of rusting metal served as a backdrop for a quiet outdoor ceremony to honor those who died in the attacks and repeat the now familiar sad vows never to forget. A giant American flag suspended from the outstretched cranes of two hook-and-ladder trucks, rippled in the breeze and draped itself over the statue of steel.

"We shall not forget the heroes, the first responders. . . . We shall not forget the way all Americans came together," said Coast Guard Capt. Paul Wiedenhoeft.

Events marking 9/11 dotted the Southern California landscape from dawn to dusk. Several were held by fire departments.

A candle-lighting ceremony was planned at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

As New Yorkers debate how much to keep grieving and in what form, Los Angeles firefighters at Tuesday's service vowed to keep some of kind of annual ceremonial remembrance.

"We'll always do this," said Antoine McKnight, a spokesman for the L.A. Fire Department, "regardless of how many civilians show up."

About 200 people gathered: firefighters and police officers in dress uniforms; city officials including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; and a sprinkling of civilians in everything from shirts and ties to shorts and sandals.

Some mentioned terrorism. "We must realize this is a threat that we have with us all the rest of our days. . . . This is an enemy that will not go away," Police Chief William J. Bratton said.

People stepped from under a canopy to watch a formation of three red-and-white Fire Department helicopters fly overhead in the sunny sky, casting brief shadows on the nearby hillsides. When the helicopters receded from view, 10 members of the Pipes & Drums of California Professional Firefighters marched past the group, crisp in their tartans, pausing to play the plaintive strains of "Amazing Grace."

"We just wanted to show some respect and come here," said Jose Martinez, a 32-year-old real estate agent from San Gabriel. He thought he was coming simply to take pictures of the steel memento. Instead he found himself in the audience of a ceremony.

"I think we're really underdressed," he said, wearing shorts and clutching his 3-year-old daughter, Raquel.

"We've always been really emotional about the 9/11 tragedy," said his wife, Sarah, 29, a Starbucks employee. They knew no one who died that day, but they keep up with books and documentaries about the event.

John Kitchens, a Los Angeles firefighter for more than 30 years, had mixed feelings about the speeches.

"It's important to have a memorial," said Kitchens, 53, president of the Los Angeles Firemen's Relief Assn. But he would prefer one without references to enemies and wars. "Our political machinery is controlling us by fear -- by letting us go into war, stay in war."

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carla.hall@latimes.com

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