Hana Gallego and Avia Meyers were only 4 years old in 2001. They barely remember 9/11, but their hearts go out to those who will never forget the day that terrorists crashed into the iconic American buildings.
The Laguna Beach High School ninth-graders joined the throng who gathered Sunday at Monument Point to honor the heroes of that dreadful day and the resilience of the American spirit. The event was solemnized by the dedication of a sculpture — which contains two beams salvaged from the collapsed World Trade Center — and the raising of a flag that once flew over ground zero.
"I empathize with what a lot of grieving people are feeling," Avia said.
Hana helped pay homage to the lives lost on 9/11, as did the imposing presence of grave Laguna Beach firefighters.
"A total of 60 police officers and 343 firefighters died at the World Trade Center, the most ever killed in a single incident in the United States," Jerry Speziale, deputy supervisor of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said at the memorial.
"Although this 10th anniversary is one of tragedy, it is also an anniversary of triumph. The terrorists hoped to bring the people of this great nation to their knees and instead they brought us to our feet.
"It is important that we show our respect for the victims of that terrible day, but it is of equal importance that we honor and celebrate the countless acts of courage, compassion, allegiance and devotion to duty that have been demonstrated by our police officers, firefighters, rescue workers and our citizens.
"They have demonstrated the best of humankind — courage over cowardice, kindness over cruelty, service over selfishness, hope over fear and love over hate."
Speziale personally brought the ground zero flag to Laguna.
Bagpipes wailed and police and firefighters saluted as the flag was raised over Monument Point.
Following the flag raising, Fire Chief Kris Head, who later said he had difficulty speaking at the emotional event, asked the crowd for four minutes of silence for the four sites struck on 9/11. A bell tolled four times in remembrance of the twin towers, the Pentagon and a field in the Pennsylvania countryside.
"This was touching in so many ways," said former Fire Chief Mike Macey, who supported Fire Capt. Andrew Hill's efforts to acquire the two metal beams with which artist Jorg Dubin created a memorial sculpture.
The Port Authority had invited municipal fire departments around the county to submit applications detailing why their city wanted the beams and what would be done with them.
Hill's application said Laguna would use the beams to create art that would be visited by folks from around the world.
Mayor Toni Iseman said the sculpture created by Dubin was a fitting tribute.
Dubin's piece was recommended by the city Arts Commission, which chose "Remembrance, Respect and Reflection" as the theme.
"He got it exactly right," said Arts Commissioner Mary Ferguson.
Mark Porterfield, whose financial donation made the project possible, said Americans turned tragedy into triumph by never bowing to terrorists.
Here in Laguna, Dubin turned rubble into art.
"From the beginning I wanted it to invoke a universal message that we are truly a global community and remind us that extreme ideology has no place in a civilized world," Dubin said.
He named it "Semper Memento" — always remember.