As the sun fell from view behind buildings and twilight sank in, hundreds gathered in downtown Napa to remember a day that remains close to the hearts of many Americans and people across the globe.
Wednesday, on the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, about 500 Napans and northern California residents met at the site of a new memorial designed to keep the memories of the nearly 3,000 lives lost that day alive in perpetuity. Just after 8 p.m., as "God Bless America" played in the background, the memorial was illuminated and the names of each person killed in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania could be seen once more.
The memorial, which has been in the works since 2010, features four 24-foot-tall steel beams recovered from the wreckage of the World Trade Center, as well as several smaller beams throughout the garden site. At its center stand four panels of glass, the largest reaching more than 14 feet into the air, displaying the names of each victim, the story of Sept. 11 and an explanation of why Napa built a memorial.
“To me, the 9/11 events affected all of us,” said Gretchen Stranzl McCann, the landscape architect for the garden. “It’s important, for those of us who can remember where we were 12 years ago and for those who are babies coming up, that we create a place to keep the memory alive and create a place where people can come and understand and contemplate and hopefully continue as a whole to be peaceful.”
The crowd Wednesday included public safety personnel in uniform, active-duty military members and veterans, children waiving flags and several who at one point in the ceremony raised their hands to acknowledge they knew someone whose name is inscribed in the glass of Napa’s memorial.
Napa County Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht offered touching words of reflection and encouragement to the audience that filled the parking lot adjacent to the memorial, packed the garden grounds and spilled onto adjacent sidewalks.
“I can’t live my life in terror, fear and hatred,” he said. “I will not allow those lost to remain lost. They have found my heart, reinforced my soul. I will realize their potential, multiply their love. I am not defeated by the pain, I am tempered by it. My heart is unsheathed and joining with 7 billion hearts. Today we gather to pause and reflect.”
Others who spoke at the ceremony shared stories of how 9/11 affected them personally. Gordon Huether, the artist who designed the sculpture component of the memorial garden, reflected on his visit to the LaGuardia hangar that housed World Trade Center remnants, including crushed vehicles and tattered shoes.
“One of the things I was really struck by going through Hangar 17 was the enormity of the destruction,” he said. “I was really struck by the enormity of the hatred that could cause destruction like that. It was very sobering.”
Huether said he was also moved by the love and compassion that game from the ashes of the ruins.
“I would just encourage all of us to not wait for the next disaster to treat each other the way so many of us treated one another after that disaster,” Huether said. “We should love each other every day.”
Ed Henderson, who was the mayor of Napa on 9/11 and was near the Pentagon when it was attacked, offered a similar sentiment as he spoke about his experience making the four-day-long drive from Washington, D.C., to Napa.
“It was an amazingly frightening time ... but it wasn’t all negative,” he remembered. “We crossed the United States the day after and we never in our lives saw such patriotism in our country. We haven’t seen it before and we haven’t seen it since. We must somehow recapture that patriotism.”
Napa Fire Marshal Darren Drake, the man responsible for putting the memorial garden into motion, left those in attendance with a challenge.
“If you see our ladder truck out here, it has an American flag on it,” Drake said, motioning to one of a number of public safety vehicles parked on Main Street. “Our fire truck No. 1 has the names of the 343 lost firefighters. We remember. We will never forget this day. We will never forget those men and women of our armed services who are today fighting the war against terrorism. ... Please don’t ever forget.”