On an overcast morning that reflected their somber mood, Capt. Lee McNett bellowed out to his fellow firefighters lined up in front of Santa Monica Fire Station No. 2: "Present Arms!"
The 12 firefighters, dressed in their navy-blue work uniforms, drew their right hands to their foreheads in salute. One man lowered the U.S. and California flags flying in front of their station to half-staff.
On Thursday at 6:59 a.m. PDT, the time at which the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed seven years ago, a minute of silence was observed.
The firefighters stood still, eyes fixated on the flags as they flapped in the breeze. They thought of where they were when they first heard of the attacks.
Three of the four hijacked jets were bound for Los Angeles. The other was headed for San Francisco.
They remembered the fellow firefighters who rushed to help. They thought, too, of the many U.S. service members still fighting and dying for their country.
The minute passed.
"Detail dismissed," McNett said. He asked if any of the men wanted to say something. No one did.
McNett said that seven years after the attack many memories remain vivid. That morning, he gathered around a fire station television with colleagues. He remembers hearing a distinctive warbling sound in some of the footage of the Twin Towers. He recognized it as the sound of many, many personal locater alarms, which go off when a firefighter has not moved for more than 60 seconds.
"That's when we all realized it's just . . . " McNett trailed off, shaking his head.
He said the anniversary made him think of the costs of a free society and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We have to remember we're dealing with terrorists and have to do what we have to do for freedom," he said. "Unfortunately, the answer to that is war. I look forward to the day when we can say the war is over."
A banner, put up a few days earlier, flew over the station's front windows: "Join us to commemorate Patriot Day Sept. 11." During the ceremony a dozen or so residents walked by, but no one stopped. McNett said he wished they had hung the banner sooner.
"I just think people don't have a place to go and commemorate Sept. 11," he said.
A few blocks away, Celine Uribe, 22, took a smoking break from her job as a barista at one of the area's many coffee shops. Earlier, Uribe and her roommate talked about the terrorist attacks after they saw a story about the dedication of a new memorial at the Pentagon, where an American Airlines jet bound for Los Angeles was forced to crash.
But she did not attend the fire station ceremony.
"Honestly, I think people are trying to put it behind them," she said. "I think because it's been seven years, they're not as scared anymore."
Jim Lengel, 45, and his friend Dan Perloff, 47, walked Perloff's dog on Main Street about 8 a.m. Each man said that when he first woke up, he did not remember the anniversary.
The two said they were shocked and angry on the day of the attacks, but time and events had made those emotions less immediate.
"I have a busy life and I run my own business," said Lengel, who builds custom furniture. "There's a lot going on in the world, what with the presidential election. Everyone's focused on issues more immediate to them right now."
Lengel said he also felt conflicted about the events that followed Sept. 11, particularly the cost of the wars and other security measures.
"We've gone off on crazy adventures," he said. "You can't have a clean way of looking at it."
More than an hour after the ceremony concluded, Camilla Griggers, a lecturer in English at Cal State Channel Islands, walked past the fire station. Griggers said that had she known about the memorial, she would have attended.
Two weeks after the attack, Griggers visited Ground Zero in New York. She said she would never forget the horrible smell that emanated from the wreckage.
"To me, Sept. 11 is a reminder not to act out of fear," said Griggers, who said she is opposed to the war in Iraq and objects to the way some politicians have connected it to terrorism.
"I knew that a historic event had taken place," she said. "And everything has changed since then."
At the fire station, outwardly at least, everything seemed back to normal.
By 8:45 a.m., the sidewalk in front was empty. The flags still flew at half-staff, but everyone had gone back to work.