ALBANY - "It was 16 acres of sheer destruction," said Col. Neil Skow at a Remembrance Ceremony Friday as he described what he experienced with the New York City Fire Department during the 9/11 World Trade Center tragedy.
"As we approached the site, we all were thinking the same thing: 'Oh my God, how are we going to do this?'
Skow, a former FDNY firefighter who is now with the Army Reserves, was the keynote speaker at an event in the East Capitol Park. He gave his "heartfelt" speech, as he put it, without any notes except for when he concluded by reading Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
A member of the FDNY for 31 years and at the time of 9/11 with the Ladder 2 Company, he compared the country's strife and battles during the Civil War to what first responders faced for 9/11.
"I have never seen anything like it and I probably never will again," he said as he came to realize when he was helping at Ground Zero that he was not only working with the FDNY but also folks from Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Boston.
He said he lost 10 colleagues that crisp day in September, and he became teary-eyed at points as he spoke of his fallen friends and their sacrifice.
He went on to serve two tours of duty in Iraq, and he carried the FDNY flag with him. He said his colleagues in the Middle East still use the flag for their 9/11 ceremonies.
His presentation Friday received a standing ovation from a crowd including state troopers, city firefighters, area public officials, and state employees who happened to be walking by.
"I wanted the opportunity to remember all those who lost their lives and to remember their families," said Bob Lazar of Delmar who attended the event. A retired banker, he used to do a lot of business at the Twin Towers and had a mentor who perished.
"We should remember the responders and remember all the volunteers who came after the event. We must be certain to never forget this event happened."
There were 2,976 confirmed deaths in the 2001 incidents that included attacks on the Twin Towers, a plane flown into the Pentagon and a plane passengers successfully crashed into a field in Pennsylvania before it reached its target which was presumed to be the Capitol or the White House.
The 19 Islamic extremists who hijacked the four commercial jets died as well.
Event officials highlighted artifacts on display for the ceremony from the State Museum. The pieces included some small bent metal from Ground Zero and a fragment of glass, part of the 43,000 panes in the two towers, according to the exhibit caption.
Albany County Executive Michael Breslin said, "In a few short minutes, we realized the Twin Towers were not indestructible, the Pentagon was not impenetrable, and that there were terrorist threats around the world. And we came together as a country in a way that we hadn't for many years. We must try to recapture that."
Danielle Sanzone may be reached at 270-1292 or by email at email@example.com.