NORTH TONAWANDA – Newly appointed Alderman-at-large Robert J. Clark, a retired Air Force chief master sergeant, was at ground zero 12 years ago. As an Air Force medic he was called like many others to help following the 9/11 devastation.
Realizing the significance of that day Clark said he brought back baseball-sized rocks that were once part of the South Tower of the World Trade Center, one of which he presented to the Common Council before Wednesday’s meeting.
They will be added to the city’s new and growing 9/11 Memorial at the entrance of City Hall, which also includes a small I-beam from the World Trade Center and a model of the Freedom Tower crafted by Ascension Industries, an engineering and design company in the city.
Clark, who was appointed to succeed retiring Alderwoman Nancy Donovan effective Aug. 1, said he had picked up some pieces of the twin towers and passed them on to people who would appreciate them. The piece he presented to the Council had belonged to his father Robert L. Clark who died in 2005.
“I couldn’t think of a better place for this to lie than here with the City of North Tonawanda and in this particular memorial,” Clark said in making the presentation, which he called “a great comfort.”
Mayor Robert G. Ortt said he was 22 at the time of the terror attacks and soon joined the service because of what happened, enlisting in the New York Army Guard and serving in Afghanistan.
“I was sitting on the couch watching, and I felt so helpless. I realized that it was a pivotal point in my life,” he told The Buffalo News.
“I feel very personally connected to that day. My life before then and today would have been very different had that not occurred, even though I was not there.” He said it was important, especially for young people, to recognize how they felt that day.
Clark said he was called into action immediately after 9/11 as an Air Force medic with the 105th medical group working on “the pile.”
“When I got there the smell and sounds and lights were unbelievably graphic,” he said. “The pile was still burning two days after and kept burning for three weeks while they kept hosing it down. With the search lights and fire apparatus it was always chaotic. People were climbing on it, while they were hosing it down, over the rubble. We were looking for bodies, and unfortunately we were finding them.”
Clark said that while some may see just a rock, he knows where it came, from and that carries meaning for him.
Ortt said the memorial is a symbol of that day and a reminder not only of the tragedy but also acts of heroism and of people helping people. “These things remind us that there are two sides. There’s the awful side that you remember initially, and there’s the American spirit that came out of that, and there is a lot to be proud of,” he said.