Local reactions vary to bin Laden news

While many people around the world celebrated the death of Osama bin Laden this week, Cecil Birnbaum found himself in a contemplative frame of mind.

Birnbaum, the chaplain of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 11548 in Huntington Beach, could easily remember his thoughts from Sept. 11, 2001. He recalled turning on the TV and thinking the first plane had struck the World Trade Center by accident, then discovering with shock that that wasn't the case.

When news broke late Sunday that a team of Navy SEALs had tracked down and killed bin Laden at a complex in Pakistan, Birnbaum didn't join others in exulting, at least outwardly.

"My personal opinion is, obviously, we're delighted this menace is taken away from the world," the longtime Huntington resident said. "But on the other hand, it's rather sad that humanity has come to a level where we have to kill each other to settle our problems. We hope someday, we'll have leaders who find better ways to do things."

The 9/11 attacks, which led to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — and, ultimately, to an era that Time magazine labeled "The Decade from Hell" — changed Huntington Beach as well. Residents held vigils and raised funds for victims' families. In 2002, the city invited New York firefighters to its Fourth of July Parade.

At least one community response to the tragedy has been ongoing: In 2005, the city adopted the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, which has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Cindy Cross, the executive director of the Huntington Beach 3/1 Marines Foundation, said the news was "a long time coming."

"I think he died the way he deserved to die, and I'm really glad it was American forces that took him out," she said. "It would have been kind of a bummer if he died of old age."

Bill Siddall, the commander of American Legion Huntington Beach Post 133, said his group holds an annual ceremony on Sept. 11, now known as Patriot Day, at Pier Plaza. This year, he said, bin Laden's name would likely come up again.

Siddall, who said that he was speaking for himself and not the post, said he felt a sense of closure with bin Laden's death.

"My personal reaction is three words: It's about time," he said. "That's about all I can say. It took nine years longer than it should have."

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