Tonawanda News — North Tonawanda Alderman-At-Large Bob Clark just happened to be working outside New York City when the first plane struck the north tower of the World Trade Center buildings.
With years of military service under his belt as a combat medic, including a tour in Vietnam, he was stationed at nearby Stewart Air National Guard Base and working in the private sector for an energy company when an urgent call came into his office.
“I was 19 floors up and we looked right down the river and could see Manhattan,” he said. “I stood up and looked out the window and I could see the smoke. The next hour and a half we were essentially watching that from the window.”
But while he was watching he placed a call to his base because he “just didn’t feel comfortable” sitting idle.
“When the second plane hit the tower I picked up my phone and said ‘I’m on my way,’” Clark recalled. “I went home, grabbed my gear, kissed my wife goodbye went over to the base and I didn’t come back for another six weeks.”
The next day, near the center of the wreckage, he began processing medical teams that encompassed military and civil personnel.
Clark, who in the late 1980s has worked in 2 World Trade Center in the financial industry, said he used to look down at homeless people congregating in Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan and felt empathy for their struggles.
Now he was headquartered in the same place, sleeping on park benches, digging through charred refuse for victims’ remains and circumventing the chaos that gripped the city for weeks. But that’s not all he did.
“I picked up about a dozen baseball-sized pieces of the World Trade Center,” he said, adding that he gave them to family members, friends and a bureaucrat.
On Wednesday, 12 years after he first headed to the site, Clark presented one of those pieces to the City of North Tonawanda, in a ceremony held at City Hall.
The small, boulder-like concrete object will be incorporated into a 9/11 memorial planned at the North Tonawanda Fire Department, according to Mayor Rob Ortt, who joined the military in response to the attacks.
“I feel very personally connected to that day even though I watched it on TV,” Ortt said.
The city has now obtained three pieces of the towers. One is situated at a display in City Hall, another will join Clark’s contribution at the fire department, a place the newly appointed council member feels will be a gathering place on Sept. 11 for years to come.
“It’s not much, but there’s an incredible amount of memories attached to it for me,” Clark said. “Now it will be a part of the city’s own memorial.”
Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.