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Long Beach man creates Sept. 11 memorial

September 8, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A Long Beach man has created an annual tribute to the fallen firefighters of Sept. 11.

Ten years after the terrorist attack, this very personal memorial has now grown into a heartfelt community-wide event.

In Belmont Heights the streets are lined with trees, the homes are well-kept and the neighbors are friendly.

Very little stands out in the Long Beach neighborhood. That is until September rolls in and firefighter Gary Biggerstaff's front yard blossoms with crosses.

"Three-hundred-forty-three crosses, one for each fireman," said Biggerstaff. "And each one is personalized with their engine company or ladder company on it."

It is Biggerstaff's one-man tribute to those firefighters killed in the Sept. 11 attacks. The memorial was born 10 years ago after an emotional trip to ground zero when Biggerstaff realized he has more than one cross to bear.

"It was still a very active dig site," said Biggerstaff. "They were still finding people and it just moved me in such a way that I knew I had to do something when I got back home."

And that something continues to grow. Biggerstaff also set up a small shrine with pictures of those killed, and heartfelt letters to the missing that were left at ground zero by family members.

This year it culminates with a concert, a ceremony and a fireworks show.

"It's gotten bigger and bigger each year," said neighbor Cindy Dennison.

Dennison has lived across the street from the Biggerstaffs for as long as the crosses have gone up. She sees this as a yearly tradition that helps bring the neighborhood together.

"People walk from all over the neighborhood," said Dennison. "There are no words to really explain how special it is."

Biggerstaff's ceremony has become so popular that it's outgrown this quiet Long Beach neighborhood. The crosses will still be there until Saturday night. But come Sunday morning, all of them will be pulled up and moved to a bigger venue

"The ceremony, the concert and the fireworks show is all free to anyone who wants to attend," said Biggerstaff. "The ceremony's going to be held at McKenna's Bay at Alamitos Bay."

Biggerstaff says this could be his biggest crowd yet, thousands are expected to show up. 343 is the number he'll be thinking of on Sunday.

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