Published Sunday, May 1, 2011 | 11:12 p.m.
Updated Monday, May 2, 2011 | 1:23 a.m.
It was so movingly improvisational, so absolutely intuitive when the northwest corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana Avenue became a makeshift shrine to the victims of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. In the hours that followed the horrific attacks, people gravitated to the corner in front of New York-New York, wanting to have some connection to the victims of New York City, the Pentagon and Shanksville. If all the world was filled with honorary Americans that day, the four-year-old megaresort had become a piece of the city it mimicked.
Thousands of floral bouquets, T-shirts, candles and hand-written notes were left as tourists and locals opened their hearts, attempting to express the pain and anguish they felt in those sad, troubling days nearly a decade ago. So after North Las Vegas EMS Fire Chief Bruce Evans learned of Osama bin Laden's death Sunday, he visited that corner. Evans was surprised by what he found.
Most people quietly wandered past, some knowing, others not aware of bin Laden's end in a reported firefight with U.S. forces. There was a group of five UNLV students who came out to start a rally. They were joined by a Henderson brother and sister who attend high school and middle school. They sang "The Star Spangled Banner," chanted "USA, USA" and "bin Laden's dead!" They gave it their youthful best but other than a few people who stopped briefly to holler or sing, most passersby looked at the quartet as one more Strip curiosity.
There were the three tourists from Nebraska who stopped to snap photos to remember the night, each posing in front of the Strip's version of the Statue of Liberty. One, ironically, had been in Las Vegas in the hours after the Sept. 11 attacks when she first visited the corner. She couldn't believe the strange symmetry or that 10 years had passed. Others continued to walk by as Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red White and Blue (The Angry American)," which was inspired by the Sept. 11 attacks, played on the New York-New York loudspeaker system and could be heard along the street corner.
Evans, who was a Henderson fire captain on that horrible day a decade ago, stood quietly and watched Sunday night. He was surprised, very surprised. He expected something more, wasn't quite sure what, but this wasn't what he envisioned.
Maybe too much time has passed since nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks. The global War on Terror is a part of our daily lives. We've lost more than 4,440 U.S. soldiers in Iraq and another 32,051 have been seriously wounded. The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan has suffered more than 2,340 deaths. Just last year a reported 3,366 U.S. soldiers were wounded by IED attacks in Afghanistan.
There's been the shoe bomber, the underwear bomber, color-coded terror alerts, airport scanners, the TSA, the politicization of the anti-terrorism effort. We'd heard for years that U.S. forces were close to capturing bin Laden and his closest advisers, only to see those efforts fail. Maybe we'd grown tired or maybe wary tourists doubted what the UNLV students, the young women from Nebraska and a couple of others were telling them. Hard to say.
Evans stood there quietly, a quizzical look covering his face. He remembered Barbara Edwards, a Palo Verde High School teacher who was a passenger on the flight that crashed into the Pentagon. He thought of the local emergency room doctor who lost a brother, Patrick Brown, a New York City firefighter whose crew had raced to the top floors of one of the Twin Towers, only to perish when they collapsed. He considered the dedication of FBI Special Agent John O'Neill, a top anti-terrorist expert who had briefly worked in Southern Nevada and had dedicated much of his career to the study of bin Laden and warned that the Saudi born son of a wealthy contractor might strike in this country. O'Neill died in the attacks on the World Trade Center.
Evans stood there quietly, wearing a T-shirt and jeans. The veteran firefighter and EMT said he came down Sunday night to visit that corner at Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana Avenue because that's what brothers do for each other. He didn't look angry. He didn't bad mouth those who didn't stop to eye the T-shirts that were encased in glass and marble after being left behind a decade ago by firefighters from Ohio, Florida, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. He simply stood there, surprised.