Hundreds of people gathered at two Sept. 11 remembrance ceremonies in Union City and Pleasanton on Wednesday morning, paying tribute to the nearly 3,000 lives lost in the 2001 terrorist attacks.
In Union City, a somber, 35-minute ceremony was held at the Flight 93 Memorial at Sugar Mill Landing Park, where victims and first responders in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania were honored. Speakers there also saluted the heroes of United Airlines Flight 93, the San Francisco-bound airplane that crashed when passengers heroically tried to stop their hijackers.
Among the crowd of nearly 200, some family members and friends of the 40 passengers and crew who died on the ill-fated flight fought back tears while sharing their memories.
Jack Grandcolas, of San Rafael, came to the ceremony to honor his late wife, Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas, who was three months pregnant when she boarded the doomed airplane in Newark, N.J.
"The silver lining to the gray cloud is that the passengers and the crew decided to fight back and stop the terrorists," Jack Grandcolas said. "They used love to conquer hate, and I hope that inspires future generations. If love doesn't conquer hate, then we're all condemned." Carol Dahl Heiderich was there to honor her brother, Jason Dahl, a San Jose native and United Airlines pilot who died in the plane crash in rural Shanksville, Penn. A San Jose campus since has been named after him: the Captain Jason M. Dahl Elementary School.
Those types of honors help her family's healing process, but full closure is elusive, Heiderich said.
"I appreciate that they are remembered, but there is always that ache in your heart," she said.
Mark Bingham, a Los Gatos man and UC Berkeley graduate, also was on board Flight 93. Bingham, a reserve flanker on the 1991 Cal rugby National Championship squad, is credited with banding together with several Flight 93 passengers to prevent terrorists from crashing into the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Wanda Green, who grew up in Oakland, also perished in the flight.
In Pleasanton, more than 150 people, including about 70 uniformed firefighters and policemen, gathered at Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Station No. 1. There, they honored the sacrifices of the 343 firefighters who perished on Sept. 11, and to remember fallen servicemen from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Following a presentation of the colors, where the flag was first raised and lowered to half-staff, Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department Chief Jim Miguel spoke, comparing the experience of children who have never even seen footage of Sept. 11 with his own experience of growing up and hearing about Pearl Harbor.
"We want to remember what took place. We need to be reminded of the tremendous sacrifice and the greatness of this land we live in," Miguel said. "They were heroes, and there were many."
Firefighters then participated in the traditional sounding of the last alarm -- the ceremonial ringing of the station bell nine times and a recording of bagpipes playing "Amazing Grace."
Pleasanton attorney Nancy Lyness, who was working across from the World Trade Center when the two planes hit on Sept. 11, was almost too shaken up to verbalize her thoughts. "When I think about all those lives of the people that were killed, it's unspeakable," Lyness said.
Dorothy Pearson, of Pleasanton, said she was thinking about her two sons in the U.S Marine Corps during the ceremony. "The current military is fighting what (9/11) started," Pearson said. "I'm feeling mixed emotions of sadness and pride."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.