The events and aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy were memorialized at the Los Angeles Visitors’ Center Sept. 11, as hundreds paid tribute to local fire, police and sheriff’s officers and watched the premiere of a new musical production, America Nine-Eleven.
Two top executives in Southern California’s protective services — Commander Mark A. McCorkle of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Deputy Chief Joseph Castro of the Los Angeles Fire Department — spoke about the heroism of the first responders on the fateful day in 2001 in New York City. The Los Angeles police and fire departments were represented by six officers who received special certificates of commendation. As those awards were distributed, the audience spontaneously arose to give them a standing ovation.
Reminding the audience that police and sheriff’s personnel — as well as firefighters — face daily dangers, Commander McCorkle told of a California Highway Patrol Officer who was shot during a routine traffic stop that morning in West Covina. Quoting John 15:13, Commander McCorkle said all officers live by the same code spoken by the Savior: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Deputy Chief Castro said his department handles about 1,200 emergency calls a day in Los Angeles. He said those in the protective services are the first line of defense against incidences of domestic turmoil. The men and women who wear the badges and uniforms of LA’s police, fire and sheriff’s departments do so with integrity and courage.
“We will always have your back,” said Deputy Chief Castro to the audience.
Chris Severn, director of America Nine-Eleven, a three-act play depicting the heroism and courage of the individuals involved and affected by 9/11, said he was compelled to write the play “to unify our country because it’s very divided right now.” He also hoped that it would help us be “more introspective — to examine what we’re doing with our time and our life.”
A member of the church in Thousand Oaks, California, Severn said he was touched when Ambassador and former U.S. Congresswoman Diane Watson, a guest at the evening performance told him afterwards, “I am so grateful you have done this. The rest of the country needs to see this.” All three performances of America Nine-Eleven in the Los Angeles Visitors’ Center — on September 11, 2015 and September 12, 2015 — were as sold out several weeks in advance.
Consul Generals from four countries — Japan, Hungary, Latvia and Bolivia — attended the Sept. 11 performance.
The personal stories portrayed in the scenes left the greatest impression on Susan Henry, a member of the Westwood California Ward. A cast member, Marie Tarbet delivered a baby girl on 9/11 in 2001 and from that experience wrote “Rebecca’s Song,” which Henry found moving. “I was glad they didn’t focus on terrorism, but the good that came from ordinary people; ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”
Sister Kirsten Erickson, a sister missionary from Roy, Utah, who greeted the audience, said she was only four and one-half when 9/11 occurred. She had never seen the video of the planes striking the twin towers and seeing the shocking images was “very emotional, especially the photos of firefighters heading to the buildings. Hearing the applause from the audience when they came on stage just made my heart swell.”
The salute to the fire, police and sheriff’s officers was a “very touching experience” for Michael Bolingbroke, of the Los Angeles California Stake. “We don’t take enough opportunities to thank those heroes and show we support them. It was appropriate to give them a standing ovation.” Brother Bolingbroke also felt the performance “brought out bravery and freedom and unity of the nation,” a theme he hoped would carry over during the presidential race.
A cast of 24 along with the Los Robles Children’s Choir and a piano, cello, violin and guitar ensemble performed the play. Michael Babbit, also from Thousand Oaks, California, who played the role of a fire chief, said performing in America Nine-Eleven brought back all the original emotions he felt 14 years ago —bewilderment, shock and fear. But it also gave him a great sense of “gratitude for those who sacrificed their lives for others.”
For Brother Babbit, the message of America Nine-Eleven is that “when you live in a land that is free you have to constantly guard your freedom. This is not a time to be complacent or apathetic. We can never believe we will be under God’s protection unless we’re actively engaged in involving God in our lives.”