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SoCal firefighter's emotional 9-11 memorial

<div class="meta image-caption"><div class="origin-logo origin-image ap"><span>AP</span></div><span class="caption-text">Dignitaries including Vice President Cheney and first lady Laura Bush, front row, right, bow their heads in prayer during a memorial for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, Thursday, Sept. 11, 2008, on the seventh anniversary of the attacks at the Pentagon. (Gerald Herbert)</span></div>
September 11, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
In Long Beach, there's a very personal 9-11 memorial. A firefighter was inspired to bring the tragedy and the heroism of that day home. Now people stop at his house to remember the first responders who became victims in the terrorist attack.Call it a "grass-roots memorial." Planted on Gary Biggerstaff's lawn in Long Beach are 343 crosses, one for every New York firefighter who perished that fateful day in 2001.

"September 11th is still a bit of an awkward thing for a lot of us," said Gary Biggerstaff. "You feel like you need to sort of honor the day and honor the victims and the heroes, but how do you really do it? And I think that I've given them a place to go, and they can come here and feel a part of it."

On Bennett Avenue, the errands of the day come to a pause. Visitors take pictures. A child asks questions.

"It brings a chill through the body. I come from a long line of firefighters, one of whom actually went over to New York, and it's very meaningful to me," said Dan Galaz, Long Beach Water & Power.

The idea was born from Biggerstaff's visit to Ground Zero. The Long Beach firefighter was so moved that he wanted to make it just as real for his community 3,000 miles away. Most touching of all, he says, were the pictures from the firefighters' children -- and a note.

"From a 9-year-old boy to his father to say that 'I miss you, I love you, I hope you don't forget me, I'll never forget you. Those are some pretty powerful words," said Biggerstaff.

"I was with an airline the day of September 11th," said transplanted New Yorker Amy Barnett. Barnett is grateful. "A lot of love and respect. It brings a tear to me, it really does," said Barnett.

The tribute gets bigger every year. A ceremony was scheduled for later in the day on Thursday, and a motorcycle ride. Five hundred people were expected to participate.

"It's getting very difficult to manage, actually," said Biggerstaff.

But manage he will. Biggerstaff welcomes all visitors.

"By their own presence, to show how much they honor them, and I'm just proud to be able to provide them a place to go," said Biggerstaff.


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