Much of the nation’s attention Sunday was riveted on New York City and other sites of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist incidents. But nearly 3,000 miles away, many Los Angeles residents held their own heartfelt commemorations.
Those the attacks had touched closely included a woman who lost her nephew, a man who was one degree removed from numerous victims, a college student whose cousins went off to war in the aftermath and a man who narrowly escaped when the World Trade Center towers collapsed.
Betsy Golkin of Santa Monica lost her nephew, Andrew Golkin, a trader for brokerage Cantor Fitzgerald, who “was just about to turn 30.” The first hijacked airliner smashed into the north tower just below Cantor’s headquarters, which occupied five top floors.
Every one of the 658 Cantor employees at work that day perished.
“I don’t think a wound like this ever heals, when you have a national crisis like this,” said Golkin, who attended a memorial at the Museum of Tolerance on Pico Boulevard. “Somebody always wipes the scab off.”
A commemoration at USC involved a service, an art exhibit and a food donation effort. The speakers at a North Hollywood event included the brother of the pilot of a hijacked plane. And a memorial motorcycle procession began in Trabuco Canyon and ended with a tribute concert in Long Beach.
Events began even before Sunday. L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa termed a Saturday-night interfaith gathering outside City Hall “one of most powerful in my life.”
“To see people praying to the same God in different languages, to see the breadth of diversity, the people there, the Muslim and Jew, the Christians of every stripe, the Buddhist and many other religions present, to hear all of them saying ‘peace be with you,’ was a very cathartic and uniting experience,” Villaraigosa said Sunday.
At the museum, behind a podium hung a massive quilt. The name of every firefighter or police officer who died on 9/11 was stitched into a red, white or blue fabric square.
All afternoon, visitors could light candles bearing the name of a person who was killed and take part in a reading of victims’ names.
Harry Gittelson, 56, had prepared a customized list to read: two brothers from the Lynch family, who’d grown up under the care of Gittelson’s father, a pediatrician in Long Island; a cousin of his cousin; a friend of another cousin; a classmate and star lacrosse player at Cornell; two friends of his brother; six friends of his brother-in-law; two neighbors of his sister.
Also at the museum was Steve Silva. On 9/11, the Southern California native, 27 at the time, had been in New York City for training at a financial services firm. After seeing debris flying through the air from the north tower, he and co-workers in the south tower started down from the 61st floor. Twenty flights down, he recalled, an announcement confirmed that a plane had struck the other tower but said it was safe for south tower workers to return to their posts.
He hesitated for a few minutes, uncertain what to do.
Then a reverberating blow knocked many around him off their feet. The impact zone of the second plane, which had struck the south tower, was near where Silva had been working.
He continued down as rescue workers passed, going up. Silva paused a couple of times to snap pictures with his point-and-shoot camera. There’s one of a smoky stairwell, and another of Silva’s co-worker framed against a burning tower above him.
After escaping the tower, Silva had to run from the surging rubble of the collapsing buildings. When he arrived later at his hotel, he discovered that his roommate had been going through his belongings, looking for a phone number to notify Silva’s family that he’d been killed.
On Sunday, Silva’s photos were framed and displayed along a wall of the museum.
“Not a single day passes without me thinking about this event,” said Silva, who lives in La Puente.
At USC’s Bovard Auditorium, in a simple interfaith ceremony, two lights shone upward through smoke from a fog machine to represent the twin towers.
Even students who didn’t attend had reflections on the event.
For Samantha Cardenas, 20, a senior from Sunnyvale, the attacks would come to mean two cousins serving in Iraq. One lost half his right leg; he was the only survivor after his vehicle drove over a bomb.
Nicola Carreon, 19, a sophomore from Las Vegas, remembered how Americans unified around each other, but the government’s response didn’t entirely make sense to her.
“I was told Afghanistan was where the problem was, and yet our troops went to Iraq,” she said.
Steve Silva’s nephew, Angel, 14, simply wants the day acknowledged by his peers, who have no memory of the event and didn’t sit still through a moment of silence in class.
“It bothered me,” he said. “I would say to them: Show more respect.”