Two renditions of the national anthem were performed Tuesday morning at a small plaza on Cal Expo’s fairgrounds.
The first was sung by retired Gulf War Army veteran Phil Rios, standing in front of a 125,000-pound I-beam structure. The second, by a booming chorus of bells from a 50-foot carillon tower nearby.
One of multiple observances in the Sacramento area, the Sept. 11 Memorial Plaza was open to the public Tuesday morning in an annual ceremony remembering the victims of 9/11, a tragedy that still resonates with police, firefighters, military personnel, their families and millions of others throughout the United States.
The permanent installation, just inside the main gate of Cal Expo’s state fairgrounds, features a spherical granite fountain with inscribed names of all the victims, a support beam from the World Trade Center wreckage, a bell tower and individual memorials to flights 77 and 93, which crashed into the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field 17 years ago.
It’s the largest 9/11 memorial in the Western United States, Cal Expo CEO Rick Pickering said in an introduction, and was made possible by generous donations from Cal Expo board member Larry Davis. Davis personally donated the massive I-beam structure, a piece of wreckage from the trade center’s north tower.
Emotions and solemn words of remembrance were on display at Tuesday’s service.
A woman in white prepared to take her seat before the memorial program as a friend stopped her for a hug, and to ask how she was holding up.
“One day at a time,” the woman responded, 17 years to the day after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks killed nearly 3,000 Americans and destroyed the World Trade Center’s twin towers.
Local politicians and representatives from veterans’ groups spoke briefly at the service. The most common theme was remembrance, keeping victims and first responders at the front of mind as the years pass.
Congressman Ami Bera was the first government official to speak, reminding listeners to honor first responders past and present.
“Let’s remember those first responders that didn’t give a second thought when they had to respond to this emergency,” Bera said. “They just did their job.”
Sue Frost, a county supervisor, called the terrorist attacks a targeted assault on American leadership, commerce and the economy.
Personal connections were evident among speakers and attendees. Sacramento City Councilman Eric Guerra said his wife was studying at NYU during 9/11, a day that will be remembered “painfully,” he said.
“I have a brother who’s a major in the U.S. Army who enlisted, by coincidence, one month before 9/11,” state Assemblyman Kevin McCarty said. “And our family members certainly had heavy hearts thinking about it, months and years after that.”
As noted by Pickering, it has been nearly two decades since 9/11, meaning more and more young people have little to no memory of the events that morning.
He said school field trips would pass through Cal Expo on Tuesday; on them, there would be students as old as 16 who were born after 9/11. He speculated that perhaps some home-schooled students may not have studied 9/11 in their history curriculum, meaning tributes like the Memorial Plaza can serve an important educational function. As city council members and military veterans delivered speeches, two young children tried to play, chasing each other around the granite fountain, as their guardian urged them to stop.
Paulette Spaeth-Rios — a small woman with pink hair and a member of VFW Post 67 with a commanding voice — closed out the series of speeches with a verbal, to-the-minute account of the tragic events that took place on 9/11. The bell tower punctuated each event with its long-sustaining ring as Spaeth-Rios described them, from the first plane’s crash into the south tower at 9:03 until the north tower’s collapse at 10:38 on Sept. 11, 2001, also a Tuesday.
Behind a crowd of dozens paying remembrance and respects, two blue, reflective towers stood. Behind the I-beam, a row of flags stood at half-staff.
Phil Rios, the past president of California Mexican American Veterans Memorial Inc. who sung the national anthem, helped lay the ceremonial wreath. A Folsom Marine Corps color guard helped open and close the ceremonies.
The Memorial Plaza will be open to the public through 6 p.m. Tuesday. Admission and parking are free at Cal Expo’s main gate during that time.
Elsewhere in Sacramento, area firefighters from around Northern California participated in the annual memorial stair climb at Renaissance Tower. To honor the 343 FDNY firefighters killed on 9/11, firefighters climbed 110 stories — in stages — in full gear Tuesday morning, each bearing the name of a fallen firefighter over their own. A final bell was to be rung at the end of the climb as each name was placed on the 9/11 Memorial.
In Rancho Cordova, Move America Forward, which bills itself as the nation’s largest pro-troop grassroots organization, held a “Packathon” from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in cooperation with city officials and the Rancho Cordova Chamber of Commerce.
The event aimed to ship 2001 care packages to the troops still fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq in the wars that were spurred by the terrorist’s attacks on 9/11. Volunteers will also pack 911 more to be shipped in the following days.
Richard Hanaford, who was in World Trade Center Tower 2 but was able to escape, spoke of his survival and the importance of remembering the tragedy. Several elected officials were on hand, including Bera, Rancho Cordova Mayor Linda Budge, three state senators and three state Assemblymen.