Tuesday evening, the concrete steps by the Huntington Beach Pier were filled with men in blue: police, firefighters and others in uniform.
As Police Chief Ken Small was keen to point out, they were lucky men in blue. Each of them had lived another day to attend the ceremony.
At the city's Patriot Day Ceremony, held on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden got only a brief mention, as did the War on Terror and global politics in general. The majority of the attention focused on those who gave their lives in the line of duty — for whom heroism was, before anything else, a job.
That meant that, in the course of honoring the first responders on 9/11, Small also paid tribute to Kenyon Youngstrom, a California Highway Patrol officer who was fatally shot during a traffic stop earlier this month. The chief noted that 1,800 law enforcement officers have died on the job in the United States in the last decade and that his own wife and parents had tried to dissuade him from pursuing a police career.
"Today, please take a moment to remember, thank and pray for all the people — public safety, military and others — who have made a commitment to put themselves in harm's way," Small told the crowd that gathered at Pier Plaza under an overcast, windy sky.
During the short ceremony, the city presented "Officer of the Year" awards to members of the Police Department, Marine Safety and Fire Department, and led a pair of prayers, while members of the American Legion Post 133 Honor Guard performed a rifle salute.
Jim Katapodis, a City Council candidate and head of the city's 9/11 Memorial Committee, noted that his group was still raising funds for a sculpture to commemorate the victims of the attacks and hoped to dedicate it outside City Hall on Sept. 11 next year.
Compared to last year's ceremony, when Rep. Dana Rohrabacher gave a passionate speech about America's history of combating tyranny around the world, Tuesday's gathering was rather subdued in tone. Mayor Don Hansen, who gave the city welcome, recommended that those in attendance visit the former site of the World Trade Center in New York to understand the magnitude of the attacks.
Hansen also tied in the weather, describing a dinner table conversation he had had with his family earlier in the day. His 7-year-old son, he said, asked him rhetorically if it was always overcast on Sept. 11.
"I didn't check an almanac to verify his weather prediction, but I think it's more symbolic than anything," Hansen said. "There's a shadow over all our hearts today."