On a cloudy, drizzly and sometimes rainy Sunday when it seemed as if heaven itself was shedding tears for those who lost their lives in the deadly terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Merced commemorated the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., and airline crash near Shanskville, Pa., with its first 9/11 Parade and Honor Ceremony.
Across Merced County, cities including Merced and Atwater honored the 10-year anniversary of the tragic events that sent shock waves across the world and united the country, however briefly, in a wave of patriotism in its aftermath.
Merced's parade was organized by the American Legion Riders Chapter 83, a motorcycle association that's part of the American Legion.
Kids yelled "Hi" and "Hello" to Merced Police Department vehicles, while other Mercedians waved American flags as residents, government officials, military personnel and first-responders participated in the parade down Main Street on Sunday morning.
The Merced parade included first responders from across the county, including Merced, Atwater and Livingston city fire and police, Cal Fire, emergency medical technicians, California Highway Patrol, military personnel, honor and color guards and others.
Bob Martratt, 85, who was standing on the side of Main Street with his wife, Bernetta, said it was sad to have to celebrate such a day. But he said to celebrate "in the sense of we've never forgotten about the families. We're letting the families know you haven't been forgotten."
Martratt, a World War II veteran, said it was important to get the message out about how important the day was.
The parade ended at American Legion Post 83, where Mike Anderson Sr., who lost his son, Cpl. Michael D. Anderson Jr., in 2004 in Fallujah, Iraq, gave the keynote speech.
He said it was important as a nation to "never forget." He said first responders know where they're going and what they're doing. His son, he said, "stepped forward." He said his son had served for 3½ years in the Army.
"The heavens opened up and shed their sorrows on us," said Bill Baker, judge advocate of the American Legion Riders. "Our first responders stand ready when anything goes wrong. We must always remember never to forget."
In Atwater, the city commemorates Sept. 11 annually, according to Atwater Police Detective Armando Echevarria. Organizers expected about 200 people for the City of Atwater Never Forget Parade and Ceremony on Sunday afternoon. American flags lined both sides of Bellevue Road as Atwater's first responders, residents, California Highway Patrol and others paraded down the road.
"It's heartbreaking," said Gayle Catuiza, who was standing on the side of Bellevue Road as the paradegoers drove and walked by. She said she remembered the events of Sept. 11. "My daughter was 2 years old. It brought me to tears," said Catuiza, who works for the Merced County Office of Education.
Some people in the crowd started to cry during the ceremony at the Atwater Community Center, where the American flag was flown high while a red 9/11 "Never Forget" flag was hung on an Atwater firetruck.
Earlier in the day in Merced, at Gurr Road and West Highway 140, about 350 people attended a pancake breakfast benefit and ceremony, organized by Cal Fire firefighters, for a sense of family, community and pancakes.
There were 343 flags on the side of the property honoring the 343 first responders who lost their lives on Sept. 11.
"I think it's a great show of support for not only recognizing the 10-year anniversary of the tragic events. It's real special having the color guard here. Great way to honor the 343 great men and women," said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Mark Lawson.
Erica Cardey, 33, of Merced was at the breakfast with her family because they wanted to "be part of the community." Sept. 11, she said, was "the day the world changed."
"It's nice to be together on a day like today," she said.
Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.