When Navy SEALs stormed the hideout of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan last year, killing the terrorist leader who launched the devastating attacks against America on Sept. 11, 2001, it served as avenging prelude to the commemoration of the tragedy's 10th anniversary. The national mourning period that began when nearly 3,000 people perished in less than two hours had reached what, to some, seemed like closure.
On this 11th observance of that terrible day, the anger that propelled us into two wars has subsided enough to allow America to end its mission in Iraq and begin bargaining with the Taliban. Those developments abroad have been accompanied by the rise of steel beams and glass in New York, as the buildings that will replace the fallen towers -- including 1 World Trade Center, which stands to become the tallest skyscraper in the country -- reshape the skyline, pressing heaven like church spires.
Having endured a decade of suffering and sorrow, did the country turn a corner that has brought it to Kübler-Ross' final stage of grief: acceptance? Has a nation that once swore to "never forget" at last allowed itself to move on?
Not a chance, says Dan Vetras, CEO of the software company Kontiki, who spent part of the weekend doing hard labor alongside all 50 of his employees as part of the September 11th National Day of Service and Remembrance. Transforming leaky hovels made of corrugated metal and rotted timbers into habitable homes at Western Trailer Park in San Jose, Vetras and the other volunteers organized by Sacred Heart hammered as if they were rebuilding the twin towers themselves.
And in a way, they were.
"Everybody vividly remembers where they were on 9/11, and everybody will tell you exactly how the day unfolded for them," said Vetras, who had an appointment in one of the doomed towers later that day. "I don't think anyone will ever forget it, and I don't know why anyone would."
Not everyone shares Vetras' very personal connection to the attacks of 9/11, but like him, others continue to make that a day of service, of reaching out.
In the immediate wake of that dark day, Americans joined hands in a way that seems nearly impossible in these more fractious times. Seeking to recapture that spirit, a national movement (www.911day.org) has dedicated itself to honoring the dead through good deeds. It's the same motivation that brought Sacred Heart volunteers to the dilapidated trailer park on Monterey Road.
"This project is not about grief, it's not about reliving the moment," said Matt King, who helped organize Sacred Heart's effort. "For a very short time after 9/11, people actually came together and felt some sense of shared responsibility to a larger community."
Vetras became part of that community after speaking at a conference in midtown Manhattan on the morning of Sept. 11. He was due at Merrill Lynch in the World Trade Center three hours after the first plane hit. When his cellphone went dead, he went to his hotel's lobby, and found the bar filled with stunned people staring at a television. That's when the second plane sliced into the south tower. "I stepped outside to look down Lexington Avenue," he recalled, "and you could see the smoke billowing from the World Trade Center."
For Vetras and other Californians, 9/11 remains at a geographical remove, if not an emotional one. But a continent away, the tragedy breaks people's hearts in a far more personal way.
At tiny Clarkson University in upstate New York, students and faculty have an intense connection to the tragedy. Four of the school's alumni were in the twin towers that day, and are remembered every year in a memorial constructed on campus from two of the Trade Center's twisted steel beams. They were a gift to the school from one of its graduates, Michael Bielawa, who supervised the cleanup of ground zero for Bovis Construction.
Another graduate, Maggie Kwan, is the structural engineer overseeing the construction of 1 WTC -- the so-called Freedom Tower.
"I think it would be a mistake not to continue to recognize that incident in the same way," said Anthony Collins, Clarkson's president. "What occurred that day, and the reason it occurred, goes to the heart of what we need to understand as the world gets smaller. We've had people who walked this campus, and then lost their lives. That personal connection does add a different dimension. But many of the students coming to classes now don't have a firsthand recollection of that day. So it doesn't take long to lose that connection."
If Sept. 11 crept up quietly on others this year, it's not a day that Vetras ever forgets. "I wouldn't let off the gas at all," he said, encouraging acts of remembrance great and small. "I think this should be one of the most honored and sobering days of the year."
Contact Bruce Newman at 408-920-5004; follow him at Twitter.com/BruceNewmanTwit.
The San Jose Fire Department will observe a moment of silence at Fire Station 1 (225 N. Market St.) at 6:59 a.m. Immediately after that, the memorial bell will be rung symbolizing the "last alarm" for the first responders who died during the attack.
Oak Hill Funeral Home and Memorial Park will conduct services at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. at its permanent 9/11 memorial at the corner of Monterey Road and Curtner Ave.
9/11 Remembrance Ceremony -- 5:50 p.m. The Exchange Club of San Ramon Valley and local veterans' groups host the 9-11 Remembrance Ceremony for San Ramon Valley residents. There will be free ice cream, Cracker Jack and bottled water. All Wars Memorial, Oak Hill Park, 3005 Stone Valley Road, Danville.
9/11 Remembrance Ceremony -- 9:45 a.m. Sept. 11, the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department will host a brief public ceremony at the flagpole outside Fire Station No. 1, 3560 Nevada St., Pleasanton. There will be refreshments and an open house of department headquarters and Fire Station No. 1. 925-454-2361.
9/11 Remembrance and Candlelight Vigil -- 4 to 8 p.m. Sept. 11. The Lafayette Flag Brigade's 11th Annual ceremony. The largest overpass flag display in the state, featuring the United States Volunteers and their flag-folding ceremony, the Blue Star Moms and the Lafayette Boy Scouts Color Guard. El Curtola Bridge over Highway 24 (24 to Pleasant Hill Road exit, turn on Old Tunnel Road, go to top of hill). 925-262-3307.
9/11 Remembrance Ceremony -- 11 a.m. Sept. 11, Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors will have presentations from the Contra Costa Fire District and Contra Costa Sheriff's Department in the board chamber at the County Administration Building, 651 Pine St., Martinez.