WALLINGFORD — Local resident Robert Blanchard was working as an analyst for Moody’s Investors Service in New York on Sept. 11, 2001.
“There are many things about that day I’ll never forget,” Blanchard, who serves on the town Pension Commission, said Tuesday evening from the steps of Town Hall during the annual 9/11 remembrance ceremony.
His office was across the street from the World Trade Center building complex, and when he walked outside and looked up, the Twin Towers, only three blocks east, stood taller than the rest.
It started with a strange noise and the ground shaking. Recalling past attacks on the World Trade Center, Blanchard and his coworkers ran to the window, where they could see the hole in the North Tower, the first building that was struck.
“We could see the towers with papers floating down from the sky,” he said, “chaos in the street and many of the first emergency responders began to arrive.”
He was still observing the smoke and flame pouring out the building when the South Tower was struck.
“It looked like a bomb exploded out the side of the building,” he said. “Any thoughts that the first plane was an accident were gone.”
After calling home, Blanchard left his office building, where emergency crews had set up a triage in the lobby.
“There was a painful realization that a lot of people wouldn’t be going home to their families that night,” he said.
When the towers collapsed, he said people began running “like they were bring chased by a predator.”
After hours of walking through the confusion, he arrived at a packed Grand Central Station and after a three-hour, standing-room-only train ride to Connecticut, he arrived home 10 hours after the planes hit the towers.
Today, Blanchard is a treasurer for Healthfirst, a health insurance company near the World Trade Center.
“The surrounding area is more vibrant than ever,” he said. “This is the proof that we’re resilient, unafraid and unwilling to let others dictate how to live our lives.”
Tuesday was the first time Blanchard spoke to a crowd about his experience.
“It was just the right time to tell the story,” he said, “and I think if I could add some inspirational words to that (about) the strength of being an American and being proud to be an American, that’s what I was hoping to get across.”
Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. invited Blanchard to speak as part of the ceremony. In the past, guest speakers have included local students.
“We try to make it meaningful,” Dickinson said. “For those who had the chance to be here, it’s a time to meditate and remember, and I personally think that’s important.”
Fire Lt. William Massey served as master of ceremonies Tuesday. The color guard included the police and fire departments, the U.S. Naval Edson Division Sea Cadets, members of veterans and fraternal groups and Boy Scout Troop 1.
The Rev. Anne Bracket of Yalesville United Methodist Church gave an opening prayer. Music teacher Lisa Zolkiewicz-Ives sang “The Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America.” Robert Lyons of Boy Scout Troop 1 lead the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.
To conclude the ceremony after a moment of silence, Massey ran a bell once for every 100 victims. Firefighter David Gade played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes, and the color guard departed.