About 300 people gathered at the All Veterans Memorial Plaza on Pine Street in Lodi on Wednesday to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.
Omar Conger, 18, draped an American flag over his shoulders, put on a blue hat with "USA" written on it and joined the crowd.
"It's not every day that you get attacked," Conger said as he vividly recalled where he was one year ago. "I was in my government class at Lodi High School. I don't think I'll ever forget that day."
The event at the plaza was one of many observances held throughout the region, each one designed to remember the events from one year ago, a day many now simply call "9/11."
Nobody had to be reminded of that morning a year ago when most Lodi residents were just beginning to wake up. On the other side of the country, though, terrorists had hijacked four airliners, crashing two of them into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and one into the Pentagon. A fourth plane, presumably destined for the White House, crashed into a Pennsylvania field.
lit candles Wednesday night at Hutchins Street Square in Lodi to
remember the victims of the Sept, 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
This Sept. 11, Lodi residents again awoke, only this time they remembered the thousands of people who died in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
At Lodi High, about 500 students recited the Pledge of Allegiance, sang "God Bless America" and conducted a moment of silence at 7 a.m. A second moment of silence was held at 9:11 a.m.
The flag pole in front of the Lodi High campus was draped with flowers and signs such as "America, we love you" and "Let our nation under God unite - remember the lost lives of Sept. 11."
Principal Bill Atterberry diffused rumors circulating around campus that he had banned any activity commemorating the Sept. 11 tragedy. He also denied rumors that he had banned patriotic clothing.
"I'm a Vietnam vet, and I'm proud of my country," Atterberry said. "I never prohibited anything. I'm wearing a red, white and blue tie, which I do often."
However, to avoid reopening emotional wounds about last year's tragedy, Atterberry said he wanted to keep Sept. 11 in its proper perspective.
"We just wanted to keep it low key," he said. "We just didn't want students sitting around watching TV sets all day. We didn't want it to be the focus of the day."
Wednesday evening, Lodi firefighters unfurled a giant American flag between the ladders of two fire trucks on Pine Street, and below it, 94 children from the Heritage School chorus sang patriotic songs.
Members of the Lodi Police and Fire departments' honor guard stood at attention on the Veterans Plaza. Behind them, rows of additional officers and firefighters stood with their families.
Residents sat in lawn chairs and on the grass, many wearing red shirts and carrying American flags.
For some, the most emotional moment was Robert Clemons' rendition of "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes.
One woman gazed at the large American flag waving gently in the breeze, and she blinked tears from her eyes as the last notes from the bagpipes faded away.
Bagpipes are a special symbol for firefighters, said Lockeford resident Scott Lewis, who works for the Sacramento City Fire Department.
"They play the bagpipes when you graduate and when you die. Ask any firefighter, and they'll tell you that bagpipes are special," he said.
Lewis was one of many who went from the Veterans Plaza to Hutchins Street Square, where members from at least 10 churches gathered to remember those who lost their lives one year ago.
Volunteers distributed candles, the light from which soon replaced the fading sunlight.
"These candles represent the light within us that cannot be extinguished," said Pastor Perry Kallis of Temple Baptist Church.
A gentle breeze blew across the crowd as three distant planes crossed the sky, small lights that served as reminders of the planes that crashed one year ago. And then Kallis asked everyone to blow out their candles, in memory of those who died in the attacks.
Earlier in the day, residents visited Lodi Community Arts Center, inside the Lakewood Mall at Elm Street and Ham Lane. A special "9/11: We Remember" art exhibit attracted people who walked around it silently.
A button collage set against an American flag background was one woman's way of acknowledging four friends who were killed in the World Trade Center, and a firefighter's uniform served as a reminder of those who died as they tried to save lives.
The art show was organized by Patti Wallace, who, for the first time, felt that the American flag really meant something to her.
"Of all the other things that have happened previously, they weren't the things that touched me," she said.
But Sept. 11 was different, she said, and she encouraged visitors to write on a drawing of a flag, or sign a nearby guest book.
"God bless America," read one guest book inscription, signed by a couple from Milan, Italy.
In Galt, an estimated 500 people turned out for the Galt Sunrise Rotary Club's observance Wednesday night at Chabolla Community Center.
Participants included uniformed Galt police officers and firefighters, the Galt Veterans of Foreign Wars, and local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
On Wednesday morning, about 25 people showed up for a prayer and open house at the Lodi Muslim Mosque on Poplar Street.
Shujah Khan, vice president of the Lodi Muslim Mosque, led a prayer remembering those who lost their lives a year ago.
"Islamic terrorism is an oxymoron," Khan said. "It cannot be Islamic if it is terrorism."
"We are ashamed that they call themselves Muslims," said Taj Khan, who is active with the mosque, told Muslims and guests. "There are terrorists in every religion that give it a bad name - 99.99 percent of humanity is decent and beautiful."
Pastor Mari Thorkelson of St. Paul Lutheran Church brought several members from her congregation to the mosque Wednesday.
"(We came) because we are one," Thorkelson said. "We need to be together on this day. It was significant they opened this up for the whole community."
Before sunrise, about eight people lit a candle at St. Paul and prayed for each other and the Muslims before heading to the mosque.
"They're just lovely people," Virginia Snyder, who attends St. Paul's, said of the Muslims. "Under the skin, we are just human beings doing the best we can."
At Woodbridge Middle School, students, teachers and parents walked or ran a mile around the school's perimeter Wednesday in memory of an individual who died at either the World Trade Center, the Pentagon or Pennsylvania.
Physical education teacher Nancy Thompson came up with the idea and enlisted the parent club's help last week. Parent Club members looked up victims' names on the CNN Web site and wrote individual 4-by-6-inch cards with the victim's name, age, place of death and picture.
The cards were taped onto the outside wall of one of the classroom wings and individuals wore a name tag with the victim's name they "sponsored."
"We even had our severely handicapped class come out," Principal Sheree Flemmer said.
Physical education teacher Paul DeAndries ran 13 miles, each mile for a different victim.
"I thought it was pretty amazing," said eighth-grader Leanne Ortega, who ran a mile for one victim and walked a second mile. "There were people running who usually don't run when we have to run."
Robyn Puskaric, also an eighth-grader, chose a special victim, Jason Dahl, one of the pilots on Flight 93, which crashed into Pennsylvania. Dahl was the uncle of Puskaric's sister, Melissa Mead of Stockton. Puskaric had met Dahl at her sister's wedding in 1998.
Sept. 11 was a day for everyone to remember and reflect on events that permanently changed some lives.
"I watch documentaries on it now, and I cry," said Conger, who has vowed that he will join the Navy in order to serve his country.
After the ceremonies of the day were over, Conger was still proudly wearing his American flag.