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The 9/11 Decade: A South Salem Resident Reflects

SOUTH SALEM, N.Y. - Victor Ponzo will never look at bright blue skies the same way again.

The currency broker and South Salem resident was working just one block from the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 when the planes hit. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky that day and that image is now indelibly stamped on his memory.

“Our building shook,” he said. “We weren’t sure what was going on. We turned on the TV and they had a shot of the north tower. We thought it was a small aircraft that hit. But then we were watching the TV when the second plane hit and we knew it was a terrorist attack.”

That’s when Ponzo and his co-workers decided to evacuate. They ran out of their building and headed uptown. By the time they got to midtown, the towers had come down.

“I was running uptown and people were running downtown and I don’t know why,” he said. “The north tower looked like it was coming down. It looked like the top would just break off and fall over and not collapse like it actually did. But the scariest thing was seeing people jumping out of the windows.”

Ponzo was desperate to call his wife and let her know he was okay, but cell phone service was out. He made his way to a florist where he was able to use a land line.

“I told my wife I was getting the hell out of there," he said. “It was a frantic call. There were other people who wanted to use the phone.”

Eventually, Ponzo made it to Grand Central Terminal, but the trains weren’t running. When they finally started later that night, Ponzo got on board and was greeted by his son who had been waiting for him at the corner of their street for five hours.

“He was 11 at the time,” Ponzo recalled. “He knew what was going on. They sent a bunch of kids home early from school that day because they knew a lot of people in town worked down there.”

Ponzo’s building was damaged as a result of the twin towers’ collapse and so his company relocated him to State Street about two weeks later. However, phone service was spotty there, making it difficult for him to make trades. So Ponzo and some of his coworkers headed back to their original office.

“We knew the phones were still working there, so we went back,” he said. “We said the hell with it and worked from our desks. We were working with gas masks on because there was still a lot of dust in the building.”

In 2005, Ponzo joined the firm of Cantor Fitzgerald, which had been devastated in the 9/11 attacks and lost hundreds of workers. Ponzo knew many of them.

“I had a long list of memorials to attend,” he said. “But it wouldn’t have been good for my mental health to go to all to all of them. I could have gone to one every day of the week if I wanted to.”

Ponzo said he is proud of the way Cantor Fitzgerald has rebounded from the tragedy.

“To recover from something like that is still simply amazing,” he said. “They rebuilt it after 10 years. Almost all the New York staff was wiped out.”

As the 10th anniversary of the attacks approached, the media was saturated with 9/11 coverage. Ponzo said the constant bombardment of articles and programs reliving that day weren’t that difficult to endure.

“It is what it is,” he said. “Sometimes I watch the stuff, sometimes I don’t. There’s some new information and angles out there that are good for public consumption.”

But clear blue skies are a different story.

“The memories come back every time there is a clear blue sky,” he said. “Every time I will think about that day.”

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