9/11 plus nine: Feeling the call

For many, anniversary inspires participation in the community

By Howard Buck, Columbian staff writer

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Patriot Day, 2010.

Nine tough years after a devastating Tuesday morning that shattered towers and convulsed a nation, what does it mean to be a patriot, exactly, in Vancouver, U.S.A.?

For Kelsey Hartley, 32, of east Vancouver, it meant a couple hours on hands and knees in Pacific Community Park, with her 18-month-old daughter, Sadie, strapped to her back.

Hartley helped lay flagstone and dig out pesky rocks. Then she gently tucked succulent herbs and other plants into a brand-new community demonstration plot that shows off natural gardening techniques.

She was one of about 700 members of the Vancouver East Stake of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who spent Saturday morning trimming, weeding, painting, cleaning and perking up the busy park off Northeast 18th Street. Most helped bring the demo gardens from bare earth to near completion, in an impressive, in-sync swarm.

“It’s just great that the community wanted to show solidarity and do something special for 9/11,” Hartley said.

The LDS Church had contacted local officials in search of service projects to commemorate the Sept. 11 terror attacks and their victims, charting a new annual tradition.

Hartley signed up eagerly, she said. Sadie would have dug the scene, too, had Mom relented. “If I let her, she’d be all into the dirt,” Hartley said, with a bright smile.

Nearby, Ryan Buzan, 21, of Camas hastily shoveled pea gravel into a wheelbarrow, then paused. The park effort shows respect for those who suffered and sacrificed on 9/11, he said.

“I just feel good about giving back to the community. That’s what I feel I should do,” Buzan said of the grim anniversary of what was a confusing event for him at age 12, he recalled.

Time for thanks

Ken Westlake, 55, a Vietnam War and U.S. Air Force veteran from Vancouver, also felt called.

Westlake pulled off his black ball cap for a moment of silence and Pledge of Allegiance, among two dozen spectators at a brief flag ceremony held outside Vancouver’s new City Hall, the former Columbian newspaper building on West Sixth Street.

He took a few moments’ leave with miniature poodles Scout and Clancy, while his wife, Marilyn, remained glued to the event. The 10 a.m. tribute drew current and past city mayors, police and fire chiefs and others who praised firefighters, law officers and others who laid down their lives on that horrific day.

Marilyn works at Vancouver Fire Department’s Station 3. But Westlake said he felt compelled to attend, anyway.

“It seems like the right thing to do, taking a few minutes out of our day to pay respect,” Westlake said. “It’s just a small thing to do, to say, ‘Thank you, we’re sorry, and we hope something like this never happens again.’”

Across Clark County, similar tributes were hosted by the Camas Fire Department, East County Fire & Rescue and other church and civic groups.

Westlake received a new liver from a donor two years ago, he added. “I know how important sacrifice is,” he said.

Pain and politics

Two hours later on the sun-splashed Vancouver Landing Amphitheater, a Tribute to Unity was staged by local Washington and Oregon chapters of We the People, Oregon 912 and Americans for Prosperity groups.

About 300 people participated, as spirited politics mingled with homage to Sept. 11. The crowd cheered and waved when Oregon Air National Guard fighter planes roared overhead outbound from PDX — a touching gesture that also had eerie overtones of threatened skies, back in 2001.

Frank Altese, 52, of Portland listened with a newly made “United We Stand” signboard on his back, two small American flags tucked in the brim of his bush hat.

Sept. 11 each year still brings a “feeling of pain,” Altese said. From the New Jersey suburbs, he watched the construction of the World Trade Center towers as a young boy; a brother is now in Afghanistan, he said.

“I’ve never seen people united so greatly as after 9/11, and that’s what this sign is all about,” he said. But he’s also found like cause with Tea Party and other Constitution-minded activists keen to clean house in Congress and dump Democratic Party incumbents.

“I believe in this country. Our founders had it right,” Altese said. He cited the path of his own immigrant Italian grandparents and decried the growth of big government and its increasing control.

Still, “I’m glad I come from a country where we can speak out,” Altese said.

Spiritual bond

A search for solidarity also pervaded the playful atmosphere of Esther Short Park.

Scents of incense and fried dough from the adjacent Vancouver Farmer’s Market crossed paths, as members of local churches and anti-bias, environmental, health and pro-animal groups staged their annual Peace and Justice Fair.

The colorful event itself grew from desire for dialogue and mutual support kindled by 9/11 and the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

With new furor over a planned Muslim mosque near New York City’s Ground Zero, and war in Iraq and Afghanistan still a cultural and geopolitical flash point, it made sense there were plenty of questions at the table manned by the Islamic Society of Southwest Washington, for a fifth year.

“This year, we’ve had the most people stop by,” said Society board member Ahmad Qayoumi. “It’s been very positive. A lot of people have really been happy to see us here.”

Many inquired about the Quran, including its take on women, said Qayoumi, 41, a native Afghan who has returned three times for international aid work. He was glad to respond, and dole out leaflets. “A lot of people are exploiting it, taking their version of what it is. … We’re giving the real answer,” he said.

Across the park, members of local Baha’i communities found the fair’s bond with Sept. 11 unshakable.

“Absolutely,” said Linda Miller, 67, of Minnehaha, active in Clark County’s Baha’i group. The fair counteracts terror and fear by instead conveying love and unity — much as the Baha’i faith, based on global tolerance and equality, she said.

“It really is about living up to the American ideals of freedom of religion,” Miller said. The Baha’i faith bestows a critical role upon Americans, she said.

“The U.S. has a spiritual destiny, as the spiritual leader of the world, of bringing about peace and justice — not just talking about it,” she said.

Howard Buck: 360-735-4515 or howard.buck@columbian.com.