Tri-Valley organizers have been preparing in recent weeks for the upcoming anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, seeking to commemorate the event with those who were impacted by it at the time as well as shed light on it for the younger generation that has come of age in the 22 years since.
The Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department is set to hold memorial events at fire stations throughout the two cities, with the Exchange Club of the San Ramon Valley set to resume its longstanding remembrance ceremony in Danville.
Karen Stepper, Danville vice mayor and former Exchange Club president, emphasized the importance of remembering the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks as it fades further from the memories of those who were alive at the time -- and more importantly, educating young people who don't remember 2001 or a time before the hijacked planes in that day's attacks hit the World Trade Center towers, The Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania and sent reverberations that impacted the globe.
"People are always asking, 'Why do we still have the ceremony? It was a long time ago,'" Stepper said. "And that's the answer -- it was a long time ago."
"Kids need to know the history of what has happened so that they will be a part of the solutions going forward," she added.
To that end, the local Exchange Club ceremony aims to draw and feature the voices of young people -- specifically, the Monte Vista High School choir, who will perform at Monday's event, and the troops of Boy Scouts and American Heritage Girls who will open the ceremony with a flag-bearing procession.
In addition to remembering the deadly 2001 attacks, this year's ceremony is aimed at marking the anniversary of a lesser-recognized attack even longer ago -- the earlier 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center that has been eclipsed in collective memory by the terrorism of 2001.
"We've never done the 30th anniversary because people don't know about it -- they don't remember that a World Trade Center bomber came eight years before this one," Stepper said.
The earlier attack, however, will be a focal point at this year's San Ramon Valley ceremony, with keynote speaker Max Noel sharing insight into that event and its repercussions from his perspective as a retired FBI agent who was in the midst of the agency's development of a division devoted to counterterrorism, which was solidified at the end of 1999.
In addition to Noel's talk, the 1993 bombing will be the topic of this year's Exchange Club essay contest, in which elementary through high school students are invited to enter their writing for cash prizes ranging from $50 to $500.
For Stepper, who has been a high-profile member of the San Ramon Valley community for decades and a key figure in the Exchange Club's memorial efforts since 2006, the memory of the attacks is still fresh in her mind 22 years later.
"That day was the most patriotic day I can remember, ever since the Kennedy death," Stepper said. "I'm very proud of our community."
LPFD Fire Chief Joe Testa also remembers the day clearly, and its impact on the department, calling the day "surreal and tragic".
He said that at the time of the attacks in 2001, LPFD was in the midst of fighting one of the largest apartment building fires the department had seen, near East Avenue in Livermore, as other units were gearing up to tackle wildfires in more far-flung parts of the state.
"My own role was providing backfill at a station in Pleasanton (now the Firehouse Arts Center)," Testa said. "We momentarily glanced at the news and saw what was happening in New York, but knew that we had to meet our mission locally and get units in-service to backfill those already deployed and to protect our communities."
"Once we had a moment to pause, the magnitude of events hit us, and the emotions that were likely felt by most that day followed," he added. "Horror, sadness and when we learned it was an attack, anger, were a few we experienced."
As LPFD first responders from the earlier shift that day wrapped up, they were held on standby in case of subsequent attacks on the Tri-Valley. Testa said they joined the millions of Americans and citizens throughout the world who were transfixed by television news footage of first responders in New York engaged in rescue missions in the rubble of the Twin Towers.
"To the LPFD and to the firefighting community as whole, the number 343 will always have meaning as the number of firefighters who died that day," Testa said. "We mourn their loss, but we also know that the fire service found strength and unity in tragedy."
The ceremonies are set for all LPFD fire stations in Livermore and Pleasanton on Monday at 9:45 a.m. (Pacific) -- it was by 9:45 a.m. (Eastern) 22 years ago both Twin Towers had been hit by the hijacked planes and rescue efforts were underway.
Uniformed service members as well as community members at large are invited to the remembrance ceremonies at the flagpoles at the 10 fire stations, with flags set to be at half-staff.
The Exchange Club ceremony is set for later in the day, kicking off with a flag-bearing procession at 5:30 p.m. Monday (Sept. 11) at the All Wars Memorial at Oak Hill Park at 3005 Stone Valley Road in Danville, with Stepper and current Exchange Club President Tim White serving as emcees ahead of Noel's keynote talk.