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Thursday, September 12, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Area residents mark day of terror together and alone, showing patriotism, tears

Seattle Times chief political reporter

The government doesn't have a multihued alert system to signal the appropriate level of mourning, patriotism or reflection. So before dawn yesterday Washington residents were largely on their own as they commemorated the first anniversary of terrorist attacks on America.

Was it a day for flag waving or mourning? To go to work in defiance of terrorists, or pause to show national solidarity?

Certainly things had changed from the drama and shock of a year ago. Enough time had passed that the spontaneous Seattle Center flower memorial from a year ago was compost yesterday, used to plant commemorative tulips.

Morning TV anchors provided pathos; the Red Cross tissues; and newspapers schedules of events at churches, horse-race tracks and in the city streets. Some people wanted to be with large crowds while others hiked to escape. There were battalions of bagpipers, morning rock-radio hosts going serious for the day and still — a year later and 3,000 miles away from the destruction — there was fear.

At 5:46 a.m. PDT, the time the first plane hit the first tower, guards on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border closed the crossing at Blaine for a minute of silence.

Candles flickered through the fog as clergy and parishioners from local Christian churches sang Amazing Grace under the nearby Peace Arch.

"Is that a funeral?" someone asked from a car as it slowed to join the line at the border.

"Oh, it's 9-11."

It was 9-11 plus 1.

The signs were hard to miss.

In Tacoma and Everett lone men paced the Interstate 5 overpasses during the morning commute carrying American flags. (By the evening commute there were as many as six flag-bearers on one Everett overpass.)

In Seattle, Hammering Man wasn't. The Seattle Art Museum staff decided it was a day of rest for the giant steel sculpture. Across the street the Lusty Lady — an adult arcade — left its usually sassy and irreverent reader board blank for only the second time ever. Last Sept. 11 was the first.

There were no Sept. 11 sales events. But at Otto's, a counterculture cafe In Olympia, a small American flag was taped to a sign offering a "Red, White & Blue Breakfast Special" of blueberry pancakes, strawberries and whipped cream.

No one yet knows what this day will be like in coming years and decades. The pain is still too fresh to know what happens when it becomes a distant memory. There will be a time when a granite memorial unveiled yesterday at Fort Lewis needs to be polished to clearly show the words from President Bush: "We will not tire. We will not falter. We will not fail."

But we are still afraid.

Nakkia Alleman went to work as usual yesterday, but few customers came through the door at Ulmia Staff, a little dress shop in Redmond Town Center.

It's just as well. The 19-year-old's mind was 3,000 miles away.

She's never been to New York, and she didn't know anyone who died in the attacks, but the events have haunted her.

She's collected newspapers, magazines and special-edition booklets about Sept. 11, the kind that showed people wedged in the tower windows waving handkerchiefs.

She dropped plans to study at American International University in London this January. She wants to be near her family. Besides, the trip would mean a transatlantic flight, a terrifying prospect.

Alleman, who lives in Woodinville, won't even go to Seattle these days. She'd heard terrorists were taking pictures of the ferries. Was the Space Needle next?

"My friends say, 'You have to get over this fear.' But it will probably take me a little while."

While many obviously still go to Seattle each day, it was hard for some to ride tall elevators yesterday.

It was quieter than usual in the 76-story Bank of America Building, the tallest building west of the Mississippi. No one was keeping track of exact numbers, but building employees figured about one-third fewer people showed up to work.

Many workers still feel vulnerable behind the towering smoked glass facade, especially on days when low-flying jetliners bank around the building on final approach to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The anxiety rises with each floor.

The 39th-floor office of CIBC Openheimer was nearly empty yesterday of its 100 brokers and support staff. Most were attending an off-site staff retreat or stayed at home. The company's New York headquarters in the World Financial Building was destroyed in the attack. No one died, but the company's policy was to let employees deal with the anniversary however they saw fit.

"We felt this was an extremely personal moment," said spokesman John Ryan. "We did not want to tell anybody what to do or what not to do."

Across the globe, musical groups sang Mozart's Requiem at 8:46 a.m. Pacific time to mark the moment when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. An idea that began with members of the Seattle Symphony Chorale, the first performance of the "Rolling Requiem" began in New Zealand. The last took place in American Samoa.Conductor Gerard Schwarz led the Safeco Field performance yesterday morning. Crowds filled the 100-level seats from first base to nearly left field. Names of those killed in the attacks appeared on the left-field scoreboard, while lyrics, translated from Latin, appeared on the center-field screen. As the orchestra warmed up, passing freight trains sounded horns. But the musicians were uninterrupted during the hourlong performance.

In his introductory remarks, Mayor Greg Nickels said: "Music touches the soul in a way speeches don't."

The speeches came at a Westlake Center memorial.

There at noon, Red Cross volunteers handed out packages of tissue to hundreds of people who chose to mark the day with public displays of grief and patriotism.

Mona Joyner was there wrapped in an American flag scarf, weeping openly and often. In her mind, a public display was the only way to mark the event.

"How can you not be here? Take off an hour from work," she said. "It could have been us. It may still be us."

The low-key event featured speeches from elected officials who spent much time praising local "everyday heroes." The message was that everyone could be a hero in their own fashion, even without rushing, like New York firefighters, into a burning building and certain death. The other theme was that America was stronger than ever.

Gov. Gary Locke, who led the crowd in a statewide moment of silence, said Sept. 11 had "made us better Americans, better human beings."

In an animated and sometimes wandering speech, King County Executive Ron Sims thundered that Americans "200million" strong, would work together to end all the world's ills, from child prostitution to dirty water and air.

"We are coming," Sims said. "That's not thunder you are hearing, that's the footsteps and the voices of 200 million American people."

Frank Dresbach, a 42-year-old painting contractor from Seattle, was stopped on his way out of town yesterday morning by a passing train at Safeco Field. He saw the "Rolling Requiem" crowds and heard the music. He kept driving to the mountains.

Later, walking up from Snoqualmie Pass toward Snow Lake he was surrounded by scoured peaks glowing in a perfect sky.

"I basically wanted to get out and enjoy the good things in this country," he said. "The great wide open."

Stanley Friedman had beaten him to the trail, leaving the Sept. 11 commemorations well behind.

"This is going to be a day of speeches and photo opportunities and so on and so forth," said Friedman, a 75-year-old cartographer from Mercer Island. "It's primarily a politician's day."

Some parents worried it wasn't a day for children.

Michelle Graham of Snohomish took her two boys to the Woodland Park Zoo yesterday afternoon. Better that her older son, Grady, who turns 4 next month, watch the animals than the Sept. 11 memorials on TV.

The boy absorbed a lot watching last year's reports from the World Trade Center. Too much, really. His mother had caught him at play, crashing a Lego airplane into the side of a Lego building.

This year, Graham, 31, wanted to keep her son oblivious.

Among the several hundred who took advantage of free admission at the Seattle Art Museum yesterday was Kestrel Wenig, with her mom, Rainier Beach resident Dana Wenig. Also attending was a stuffed rabbit named Thumper.

Kestrel turned 9 two days before Sept. 11, but her mom said the birthday wasn't colored by the national sadness.

"We don't watch much TV. So she isn't aware."

Hans Zeiger, 17, showed up yesterday afternoon from Puyallup at an anti-war rally outside Seattle Central Community College. He came with his flag and his flag shirt to protest the protesters.

He said he felt a combination of patriotism and sorrow — but mostly "good old patriotic rage" — about the growing number of "No Pride in War" signs in front of him.

Rahul Gairola, 27, walked over to hear what Zeiger was saying. "Lock him up and give him free tuition," said Gairola, a doctoral student in English at the University of Washington. Gairola, who is of Indian descent, feels a swirl of emotions: fear, revulsion, political responsibility.

"The U.S. is a major terrorist in the big scheme," he says. "The worst terrorist attacks in history were Hiroshima and Nagasaki. You can't tailor the definition of terrorism to suit your purpose."

Last year's terrorist attacks hit close to home for Gairola. His parents work for the federal government and live near the Pentagon. Yet despite his parents' patriotic pedigree, Gairola says he's been made to feel like a terrorist because of his skin color.

One thing that defines most holidays and national days of mourning is whether people have to show up for work. Most did yesterday, but around Seattle some businesses were flexible in giving people time to commemorate the day.

Dana Mills arrived at his office at 7 a.m. But he and the other employees of O'Neill Plumbing in West Seattle didn't immediately fan out to their jobs. Instead, the company provided doughnuts, coffee and two televisions so employees could take in the memorials from the East Coast and gain strength in each other's company.

"In some ways, it was harder watching this morning than it was watching last year," said Mills, 33, of Puyallup. "Seeing the families and all the people it affected, it all really sunk in. People didn't get to say goodbye or 'I love you.' It opens your eyes to see all those people hurting."

So Mills got on the phone and called his family, telling his 11-year-old son to focus on school during the day and taekwondo at night as he prepares for a weekend tournament.

Park Olson of Queen Anne sent all his employees home with pay yesterday from his sales company. "I didn't want them not to do something today because of the money."

He was at Westlake Center with his two daughters and golden retriever. He planned to walk with his family to Seattle Center.

"I just wanted to be with my family and do something," said Olson.

"It should be a holiday," he said. "It will be a holiday."

Maybe.

"Right now all of us are still in a grieving period, and we can recall this," said Sam Wineburg, a professor who researched students in three Northwest schools to see how their memories of the Vietnam War were shaped. The answer was that the popular media was a powerful force, that movies of war became the primary shared memory for the next generation.

We don't know if there is a Forrest Gump or a Saving Private Ryan to come for Sept. 11.

"What will happen as we grow older is even our own memories will tend to funnel in the direction of the kind of iconic images and telling of a story that compete in the marketplace," said Wineburg, who did his research at the UW but recently moved to Stanford University.

"We're still in the moment."

In Washington, D.C., Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Bellevue, said that it was important to do the organized memorials, like the one she attended yesterday morning at the Pentagon.

"We were so angry, we were so hurt and shocked a year ago," she said. "It's very important for us to do this sort of ceremonial stuff so we don't ever let that anger slip away."

David Postman: 360-943-9882 or dpostman@seattletimes.com.

The following contributed to this report: Melinda Bargreen, Jake Batsell, Jim Brunner, Christine Clarridge, J. Patrick Coolican, Florangela Davila, Stuart Eskenazi, Alex Fryer, Susan Gilmore, Jean Godden, Shirleen Holt, Eran Karmon, Gina Kim, Warren King, Kay McFadden, Bobbi Nodell, Nick Perry, Katie Pfleger, Ray Rivera, Nyssa Rogers, Barbara Serrano, Natalie Singer, Lynn Thompson, Tan Vinh, Bob Young.

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