Years later, 9/11 events still vivid

Even before the U.S. killed Osama bin Laden, the photo of the flaming World Trade Center towers had been removed from a Newport Beach man's wall.

It once served as a bin Laden "wanted" poster for Dover Shores resident Lyle Davis, who hung it prominently in his office until he recently redecorated.

"Unfortunately there is very little closure for me until Osama bin Laden is confirmed dead or is killed," he told the Daily Pilot close to the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

But by May 1's announcement, the terrorist leader's prominence had already diminished for Davis, 48, and for his friend, fellow Newport resident Rob Stewart, 45. Both were near the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, and drove west together when air travel was halted.

"I'm relieved," Davis said. "But I feel now it's more of a symbolic victory than anything else."

Stewart didn't celebrate. While being that close to death forever altered his perspective, he said, he didn't really ascribe the murders to bin Laden alone.

"I knew it was bin Laden and Al Qaeda, but it's bigger than one guy. It's such a bigger issue than that," he said. "Our foreign policy is much more important than any of these guys are."

Stewart was in the south tower Sept. 11, 2001, until a business meeting was rescheduled, and he wound up across the street when the first hijacked airliner hit. Confusion reigned as people tried to understand what had happened. Then he felt the second plane explode.

"The twin towers have permanently changed my life," he said this week.

Davis was watching from the other side of the Hudson River, on the Hoboken, N.J., shoreline. He said he wanted to commandeer a boat to get closer to the scene but was turned away by the captain. Later he was grateful, as a dust cloud engulfed the river.

"It was pretty emotional," he said this week. "Maybe there's closure, but the memories are still so vivid in my mind."

The two men didn't know each other before New York, but through friends and family they connected and joined with two others to drive toward California. One of the others is from Laguna Beach and the other from Newport; they declined to comment for this story.

Over the nearly 10 years since they piled into a rental car, the four have become close friends. At the news of bin Laden's death in Pakistan at the hands of U.S. special forces, they swapped text messages.

"This has forged a lifelong friendship," Davis said, "if you look at the positive side of things."

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