Nineteen years after those unimaginable — and now unforgettable — scenes unfolded on Sept. 11, 2001, many Americans still live with a lingering pain and aftershock.
At least four events were held in Bakersfield on Friday to commemorate that dark day and to honor those who were lost to the fire and ash, and those who sacrificed everything during perilous military deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq.
At Portrait of a Warrior Gallery on Eye Street in downtown Bakersfield, the commemoration began at 7:30 a.m. with brief remarks from special guests, including Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, who said, "the 9/11 attacks reshaped our country and the course of history."
The anniversary still evokes sadness and grief for the tremendous loss the country suffered, McCarthy said. But it also inspires solidarity and a sense of shared purpose among Americans.
Friday's event at Portrait of a Warrior also included a Heroes Roll Call, a touching and solemn tribute to the 27 service members from Kern County who lost their lives in the years following 9/11.
As the names were recited by retired servicemen, a bell rang out 27 times, once for each of the men whose uniformed figures grace the portraits exhibited inside the local gallery.
Following the roll call, the sounds of a rifle salute, the somber notes of taps, and the hymn "Amazing Grace" also echoed through the downtown streets.
Due to COVID-19 safety concerns — masks were required and social distancing was recommended — a smaller than usual crowd gathered at the gallery, which opened its doors to all who attended. The gallery, which also marked its two-year anniversary this week, is a sanctuary of sorts where those lost are honored and remembered with gratitude for their sacrifice and respect for their service.
Relatives of six of the 27 attended Friday's event, including Richard Zanutto, whose youngest son, Marine Cpl. Adam Zanutto, was killed in 2006 while serving in Iraq.
"It was a sleepless night for me," the elder Zanutto said of the night and morning leading up to Friday's event. "Thinking of today — and what it meant."
The 27 lives cut short. The family members who will never be the same.
"But also knowing they are going to be remembered," he said. "Kern County is wonderful about keeping their memories alive."
A second event was co-hosted by the Bakersfield Fire Department and the Bakersfield Police Department at their twin stations off Buena Vista Road in southwest Bakersfield. The event was livestreamed on BFD’s Facebook page.
Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh, who was working in New York City at the time and witnessed the attack, said "audacious terror" was met that day by the "audacious courage" of New York City firefighters and police officers who ran toward danger, not away from it.
The event featured BPD and BFD honor guards and bagpipes played by two members of the fire department. And it was held in front of a 9/11 memorial that includes a steel and concrete beam salvaged from one of the twin towers destroyed in the terrorist attack.
In addition to the downtown event and the memorial held at the Westside Substation, SSD Alarm also helped honor first responders, members of the military and all those who lost their lives on 9/11. It was the company's 18th annual Hero Appreciation Event.
This year’s event, sponsored by Salty’s BBQ & Catering, included a complimentary drive-through lunch provided for local first responders at the office of SSD Alarm.
All members of the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, Bakersfield Police Department, California Highway Patrol and other local first responders were invited to pick up the complimentary meal.
In addition, a team from SSD Alarm visited various stations throughout the county to drop off pre-packed meals for those who could not make it to the SSD office. A plaque to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice was also presented.
Inside the gallery on Eye Street, Maria Rosales showed a reporter her son's portrait. Luis Gutierrez-Rosales was born in Mexico and immigrated to the Bakersfield area at age 16.
He was 21 when he enlisted in the U.S. Army. Sgt. First Class Gutierrez-Rosales served as an Army Ranger and as a platoon leader during his second tour in Iraq.
He was killed in action on July 18, 2007 in Adhamiyah.
"I miss him so," his mother said. "He was my only boy."