Election Section

As events swirl around them, Californians celebrate

By Eugene Tong, The Associated Press
Friday July 05, 2002

Parade featured fire truck from WTC wreckage 


RANCHO CUCAMONGA — As unsettling events swirled around them, Californians gathered for Fourth of July celebrations with a sense of anxiety and renewed purpose. 

Hundreds lined the main street of Rancho Cucamonga, 40 miles east of Los Angeles for a parade that featured girders and a fire truck retrieved from the wreckage of the World Trade Center in New York City. 

But word spread quickly through the flag-waving crowd that a gunman opened fire at Los Angeles International Airport and a small plane crashed into a crowd celebrating Independence Day in the Los Angeles suburb of San Dimas. 

“It’s scary because you don’t know where it’s going to be safe,” said Donna Gutierrez, 41, of Upland. “It’s hitting close to home now.” A terrorist attack, Gutierrez said, “could happen to any of us here.” 

A flatbed truck bearing the twisted mass of girders that had once supported one of the world’s tallest buildings rolled silently past the solemn crowd. 

Tammy Wiles admitted that the news of the airport shooting and the plane crash left her with a heightened sense of anxiety, but said she would not give into the fear. 

“It’s a little scary but you can’t let it keep you inside the house,” said Wiles, 44, of Fontana. 

Parade spectators like Miregi Huma saw a chance to send a message with the simplest of acts, like waving a flag on Independence Day. 

“The main thing is to make sure they (terrorists) don’t get what they want from you: the fear of not being able to do what we want to do on a regular basis,” said Huma, 28, of Studio City. 

Across California, many found deeper meaning in the Fourth of July. Jeffrey Orth, known to San Francisco commuters as the Flag Man, walked across the Golden Gate Bridge waving an American flag for the last time Thursday morning. 

Orth, a 52-year-old real estate agent, began his four-mile walks carrying an American flag on Nov. 2, shortly after seeing a television report that the landmark might become the next target of terrorists. Commuters applauded, honk their horns and waved flags and signs that read “Thank you Flag Man” in show of support. 

“I think that sense of celebration of the American spirit will continue without my daily reminder,” Orth said. “Hopefully all of America will reflect for a moment on the freedoms we enjoy and take for granted.” 

For others in San Francisco, concerns about security outweighed their desire to celebrate en masse. 

“We’ll stay at home and have dinner with a glass of wine and watch the fireworks on TV,” said Lilian Martinez. “People have to celebrate this day, but with all this about terrorists we’re afraid that something might happen.” 

Retired Los Angeles County firefighter Tom Talbott attended Rancho Cucamonga’s Fourth of July parade to view the girders of the World Trade Center and pay respects to those who gave their lives to save others in the collapse of the Twin Towers. 

“It’s a time for us to reflect on what we have, what we want to keep, and what’s important to us. The thing that’s important is our freedom, our ability to be who we want to be and who we are,” he said.