September 11, 2021 by Michael Goot

SARATOGA — Honoring the fallen and remembering the work of the first responders was the theme of the 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony at the Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery.

“The fortitude and perseverance that our first responders — which include Guardsmen and women, police officers, firefighters — showed during this most difficult time in our state and nation, wasn’t just admirable, it was heroic,” said Brigadier Gen. Isabel Smith, director of the joint staff of the New York National Guard.

Hundreds gathered on a clear-skied September morning, much like Sept. 11, 2001, for the ceremony.

Smith, one of the keynote speakers, said that about 1,500 upstate Guardsmen and women joined their New York City counterparts in the days after the attacks to provide security at train stations, airports, bridges and tunnels. This led to the creation of Joint Task Force Empire Shield — a roughly 750-person unit that provides ongoing security for those transportation hubs.

Smith also took a moment to recognize the five members of the New York National Guard who lost their lives on that day and the 30 Guard members who died in missions to Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Today, while there are hundreds of ceremonies honoring those that we lost and the 20-year anniversary, we all carry the same sentiment in our heart and that is we are proud to serve this great country — whether it’s in public service, military service or volunteering,” she said.

Gerald Morigerato, former hazmat chief of the New York Regional Response Team, went to Ground Zero to assist with recovery and stayed there for 18 days.

Morigerato recalled how dark it was in the city from a cloud of dust that took away all the light.

“Every place you looked, it almost looked like it snowed,” he said.

When he arrived, he said two men in very soiled suits and wearing masks came up to him. One of them shook his hand and said, “God bless you for being here.”

He did not initially realize it, but his colleague told him it was then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Morigerato said he saw Giuliani many more times while he was there.

“He usually came out either very early in the morning or very late at night — always thanking us and always concerned about our health and safety,” he said.

When Morigerato got to Ground Zero, he was anxious to get started and wanted to touch base with the FDNY’s hazmat team to see how he could help. He went up to the incident commander.

“I asked where the hazmat group was and he pointed at a pile and said, ‘They’re out there,’ Morigerato said. “He looked to be in total shock and he had a blank stare. I started to walk toward the pile looking for the team. He yelled at me: ‘Where are you going?’ With tears in his eyes, he said: ‘They’re all gone.’”

The hazmat team had lost three-quarters of its personnel.

Morigerato spent the next five days working nonstop and cut off from the outside world — no showers and a limited change of clothes. McDonald’s delivered food to the site.

They were burning out generators and workers were getting sick from all the carbon monoxide. After five days, the recovery operations ended with no one being found alive.

“We felt as though we had failed our mission,” he said. “This caused us much depression among first responders. We felt that we couldn’t get our job done. We thought we were going to save thousands.”

The team’s spirits were brightened when they moved to the outer perimeter of the site to get back on a bus and found thousands of people greeting them to say “thank you” and “God bless America.”

“There was not a dry eye on the bus, because we realized at that point in time that we had made a difference. It made me proud to be an American,” he said.

He ended up spending 13 more days at the site.

Peter Samenza, fire commissioner and firefighter for the Halfmoon-Waterford Fire District No. 1, read a timeline of events of the attacks of that day. Saratoga County Fire Coordinator Edward Tremblay rang a bell at each moment when lives were lost — when the first and second planes hit the twin towers, when the towers collapsed and when the planes crashed into the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Owen Emritch, of the Capital District Youth Pipe Band, performed “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes. AnneMarie Pinter of Hudson Falls sang the national anthem and “God Bless America.”

Other participants were Frank Galerie, chaplain of the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office, who provided the invocation and benediction. The Colonie Police Department posted the colors. Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo and Nash Alexander, deputy EMS coordinator for Saratoga County, laid wreathes and the Saratoga National Cemetery Honor Guard Association fired off a military volley.

There was also a flyover by UH-60 Blackhawks from the U.S. Army National Guard.

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, said it is incumbent upon citizens to teach the history of 9/11 to the younger generation. It is important to honor the people who died during the attacks and the global war on terrorism, as well as those who continue to face health challenges stemming from the recovery.

She said it is also important to remember the “patriotic resilience” that was shown by Americans in the days and years following the attacks.

“Let today serve as a reminder that even in the face of terrorism, the strength and character of America will always prevail,” she said.

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