Waving American flags behind banners reading “Proud to be American,” students from Golden Valley High School danced down Main Street in Merced on Wednesday to music from Kool & the Gang.
It was an American celebration of some of the good times since the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001.
“It makes me proud to see all this,” 13-year-old Leslie Gutierrez said.
But as the Chrome Cowboy Patriots thundered down Main Street on motorcycles waving their own flags, those old enough to remember 9/11 were somber and reflected on the lives lost when terrorists crashed airplanes into buildings in New York, Washington, D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania.
“I can’t think about this stuff without getting emotional,” said retired firefighter George Rasmussen. “This is like a family for us.”
Rasmussen fought back tears while he and his wife, Carol, discussed their memories from that Tuesday morning 12 years ago.
“Thinking about it, being here, it just makes you cry,” Carol Rasmussen said. “I still can’t believe this happened.”
Wednesday’s parade and ceremony at Courthouse Park were just a few of the memorials around Merced County. Students from UC Merced pitched in to clean up around Lake Yosemite in a day of service to commemorate 9/11.
Students at Merced High School decorated their cars and pickups with American flags.
Leslie De Los Reyes remembers being angry.
“I remember the people, all those people, falling out of the buildings,” she said.
De Los Reyes brought her 8-year-old daughter, Andrea, to the parade. She said she wants her daughter to understand that 9/11 was devastating and terrifying.
“But also that out of something ugly, good things do come, like this (parade),” she said. “I hope this helps her understand the love and respect and honor we have for each other as a community, as a nation.”
The Chrome Cowboy Patriots, a Merced motorcycle group dedicated to military veterans issues, sponsored Wednesday’s parade and ceremony at Courthouse Park.
Patriots member Dennis Kenshalo said he was proud to be part of a community that invested so much effort in commemorating the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
“It seems like a lot of the small communities don’t do anything for it at all. It’s like they’re forgetting about it already,” he said. “It’s important to recognize what happened because it’s not something that should ever be forgotten.”