By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
Hundreds gathered at Gateway Harbor Park Sunday evening to mark the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Despite a light, steady rain those in attendance remained with flags in hand, and ducking under trees and umbrellas, as rescue workers, politicians and special guests remembered a day that will live in infamy.
“We are here today not only as members of the Twin Cities,” said North Tonawanda Mayor Rob Ortt. “But as Americans. We must remember those that continue to service the cause around America and throughout the world.”
The ceremony began with a color guard ensemble, which was made up of organizations throughout the Tonawandas, including fire and police departments as well as members of the military past and present.
The assembly congregated in the middle of Renaissance Bridge, where a stage was set up, and two fire trucks were situated, while an American flag was hoisted from their ladders. WGRZ-TV anchor Mary Alice Demler, who served as the mistress of ceremony, kicked off the event, which entailed short speeches by several local and state politicians.
Ret. Lt. Gen. Peter M. Cuviello , who was at the Pentagon a few hours after Flight 77 slammed into the structure at 9:47 a.m., killing 125, shared his experiences with the crowd.
He described long lines of ambulances ushering the injured to local hospitals, and hot, smoldering ash burning for days. Teams of forensics experts sifted through the wreckage searching for bone fragments to later identify the dead, as rescue workers formed a “bucket brigade” to expedite their own efforts to douse fires and save the wounded as a thick plume of toxic smoke rose to the sky.
He said the 17-miles of corridors that make up the Pentagon made knowing where to begin difficult. But he noted, that among the chaos, there was reason, as members of the military utilized their training in organization to take control of the situation.
Cuviello also mentioned the irony of where exactly the American Airlines Boeing 757 slammed into the Pentagon, which had just been reinforced with steel.
“If the plane had hit any other wedge in that building the damage could have been double, or triple,” he said. “God bless those who lost their lives.”
Bells were tolled, a ritual among America’s fire departments signifying a death of one of its members, and several wreathes were launched into both side of the Erie Canal. Doves were released and a Mercy Flight helicopter did a flyover as dozens of candles were lit.
Barbara Barnett, of North Tonawanda, said she came to honor the memory of a close friend who had fought during World War II.
“I wouldn’t miss it,” she said.
Sue Downing, of Wheatfield, returned to her hometown for the ceremony. She said it was only natural for her to recall the day while surrounded by friends and family from the area.
“We’ll remember this because it’s important,” she said.