At a stirring 45-minute ceremony Friday at City Hall, residents, officials and women and men in coats of many colors paid tribute to both the victims of the 9/11 attacks nine years ago and to the servicemen and women deployed at home and around the world.
Organized by city employee Margarita Saavedra and Susie Rizzonelli, of the famous restaurant family, the event drew some 75 people. They sat and stood in 70-degree temperatures, the wind sometimes whipping red, white and blue napkins off the table of treats, and listened to prayers, pledges and songs.
Dozens of large and small American flags also unfurled in the breeze.
Councilman Gary Frago, filling in for Mayor Joan Faul, who's ill, spoke of a communal "sense of grief and loss" on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks. He called on residents to "revisit the unity" that Americans shared after 9/11.
Honor guards came from several services: the Atwater Police Department, VFW Post 9946, the U.S. Penitentiary Atwater. Police chaplains Larry Lee and Jim McClellan said prayers, Chief Richard Hawthorne urged all "not to ever forget. May this never happen again -- teach your children well." The Fireman's Prayer and Bell Ceremony were performed. Patricia Mead, a city employee, sang two patriotic anthems.
Livingston leaders also remember 9/11. During Tuesday's City Council meeting, the council declared Sept. 17-23 "Constitution Week." The proclamation isn't only meant to celebrate the Constitution, but also remember the past. "In Livingston, we're about celebrating what's good and virtuous in our country," Mayor Daniel Varela Sr. said. "With Sept. 11 coming up, it's another time to think about the values of our country." Former Mayor Gurpal Samra later stepped to the lectern to point that Sept. 11 relates to the community in another way -- Livingston was incorporated Sept. 11, 1922.
Nine years ago this morning, and 3,000 miles east of Merced, veteran Associated Press reporter Richard Pyle was just returning from walking his dog. He and his wife Brenda Smiley live in Brooklyn. Here's what Pyle saw and did that day nine years ago:
At the moment the world changed, I was unaware anything had happened until I heard Brenda calling me to hurry up, a plane had hit the World Trade Center. It was maybe four minutes after impact when I got to the roof. Brown smoke and flames were pouring from the north tower. Neighbors were gathering on other rooftops. And I was on the phone, making that oft-imagined call to the office, describing what my colleagues there already could see for themselves on television.
My first task as a reporter was to get to the scene. I made it to the subway, and soon realized that among passengers on the train, most were unaware of anything having happened, until the conductor announced that service was being halted at the last stop in Brooklyn because of an emergency. Fortunately we were near the Brooklyn Bridge, which suddenly had become the only way to get to Manhattan, and only on foot.
We were halfway across the Brooklyn Bridge when the north tower suddenly fell down, a quarter of a mile away and right before our eyes. The sound was not loud, more of a hollow rumble, like a rockslide. It lasted all of 10 seconds.
As the building's TV tower vanished in billowing dust and smoke, the people on the bridge looked back. There was a vast, collective moan, pierced by cries. Some people panicked and tried to run through the crowd ahead. It was, as one of my colleagues said, "like a Godzilla movie."