Jerry and Ana Johnston got their four kids up at dawn, dressed them in their Sunday best and took them out to Cal Expo to experience the sights, sounds and feel of 9/11.
They and 300 others who turned out for Sunday's memorial could rub the cold steel of a 108-ton beam pulled from the wreckage of ground zero. They could touch the names of the more than 3,000 who died, each inscribed on a 5,180-pound red-granite ball that rotated upon a fountain of water.
Melissa, Dilan, Megan and Marina ages 13, 12, 9 and 6, respectively heard stories of grief, terror and courage. But they learned more about what 9/11 means from their mom, an immigrant from Argentina.
"I was pregnant with Megan when this happened," Ana Johnston said. "When you become a U.S. citizen you have to promise to give your life for your country, and I didn't know if I was able to do that.
"I always thought I could only give my life for my family," Johnston said. "But all that changed when I heard the story of United Flight 93," and 32-year-old Oracle salesman Todd Beamer, whose famous last words were "Are you guys ready? Let's roll!" before he and several other passengers jumped their hijackers to keep the plane from reaching Washington, D.C.
"That was the day I realized I was an American, too," she said.
The Remembrance Spectacular at Cal Expo was among more than a half-dozen memorials throughout the Sacramento region honoring those who died on Sept. 11, 2001, and the wars that still follow and the average Americans who stepped up to become heroes.
At 5:46 a.m. at Capitol Park, firefighters, police officers and veterans observed a moment of silence to mark when the first airliner struck one of the twin towers in New York City.
Many other people attended special church services.
At Cal Expo, the Rev. Dennis Nichols of William Jessup University in Rocklin reminded the audience not only of the bravery of those on United Flight 93, but that of William Rodriguez, a Puerto Rican maintenance worker at the twin towers.
"After Rodriguez rescued 15 persons, he bravely led firefighters up the north tower stairwell," unlocking doors with his master key and leading to the successful evacuation of hundreds more, Nichols said.
Those ordinary Americans who answered the call that day embodied our ability to summon a "magic blend of skill, faith and valor even against the greatest of odds."
Many children in the crowd had no idea of the magnitude of the tragedy until Nichols acknowledged the 246 victims on the four hijacked planes, 2,606 in the towers and on the ground, 125 at the Pentagon, and the hundreds of firefighters, paramedics and police officers who died in the rescue effort.
"Those who died that day live on through us," Nichols said.
U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, said Americans should not forget the more than 6,000 who have died and thousands more who have been injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thanks partly to their efforts, "there have been fewer terrorist attacks on America in the 10 years following 9/11 than the 10 years before," McClintock said.
Bagpipers played "Amazing Grace," and local singer Lisa Marie Ellis belted out a heart-tugging "God Bless America."
Jayden Whitaker, a 9-year-old from Antelope who came with his mom and three siblings, remarked, "It makes me feel really good." His sister Jordyann Robinson, 6, clutched a flag and added, "I'll bet there's a lot of people in heaven now."
Laura Carter, a stay-at-home mom and Sacramento City College student, brought flowers to place next to the granite ball that included the name of her friend Laura Gilly, who died in the upper reaches of the World Trade Center.
"She was a very, very bubbly person, always had a smile on her face, always had a good thing to say about anybody," recalled Carter, an ex-New Yorker. "It just helps me feel closer to my family and friends in New York."
Along with the names on the granite ball, the event included 3,014 pairs of shoes donated by Sacramentans to honor the victims of 9/11. The shoes will go to the Salvation Army, which co-sponsored the event along with KTKZ (1380 AM) and The FISH/KKFS (103.9 FM) radio stations, and the Northern California Tea Party Patriots.
The memorial included the sounds of 9/11, including planes crashing into buildings, sirens, screams and news accounts.
"I've seen a lot of tears," the Tea Party Patriots' Ginny Rapini said. "I don't believe they're a sign of weakness; they're a sign of power, a call to action. We've learned we can never let our guard down. We can never, ever give up."