JOHNSTOWN - Lou Pabon experienced heartache, sadness and grief during his work as a New York City construction worker at ground zero immediately following the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center's Twin Towers.
But as he reflected on the tragedy during Tuesday's 11-year anniversary of the attacks, Rabon said he now focuses on the positive lifting of human spirit that came out of it.
"We must not abandon each other," Pabon told a small gathering at the Fulton-Montgomery Community College Theatre on Tuesday. "We must be there for each other."
Broadalbin Kennyetto Fire Company firefighter Kevin Wilcox, center, participates in the tolling of the bell in honor of those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, during the Let Us Never Forget — In Remembrance of September 11 program at the firehouse Tuesday. More photos from the observance are on Page 3.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
Fulton-Montgomery Community College student Lou Pabon on Tuesday talks about his experiences at ground zero.
The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich
Afterward, he ceremonially moved dirt along with others at the site of two trees he previously donated and planted on campus in honor of the victims of Sept. 11.
Pabon, now living in Johnstown, is attending FMCC on a World Trade Center scholarship along with his two sons.
Pabon spoke Tuesday with no prepared speech in an intimate talk about renewal of the human spirit.
"I'm trying to get the community to remember not only 9-11, but 9-12," Pabon said.
He said he was a construction worker for Grace Industries living in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn at the time of the World Trade Center attacks.
"I could look out my window and see the smoke rising in downtown Manhattan from where I live," Pabon said.
He said he and a firefighter friend took a ferry across the harbor and eventually made it to ground zero. He spent 1,500 hours working there. He was involved in the removal of debris.
He said he still gets emotional about TV reports on the anniversary of the tragedy.
He said Americans never should forget the bravery of those who helped out after the attacks.
"What substance of character these men and women have," Pabon said.
He shared several stories about Sept. 11, including how he got to know retired New York City firefighter John Vigiano Sr.
Vigiano's sons - John Jr., a firefighter, and Joe, a police officer - both died in the attacks at the World Trade Center.
Having two sons of his own, Pabon said he was touched by Vigiano's loss.
"I completely lost it," Pabon said, recalling his conversation with Vigiano after the attacks. "I broke down crying. I was overcome with grief."
But Pabon said Vigiano put his arm around him and told him: "It's going to be OK. It's going to be all right."
Pabon said the incident changed his life.
"I live to honor the memory of not only the victims, but others," he said. "We're all connected. We all have relatives. I continued working there. I was there for a reason and was there to make people smile."
During his time at ground zero, he met people who were trying to find the remains of victims buried in rubble.
He recounted finding the body of an elevator operator named Greg Costello.
"He was credited with saving thousands of lives." Pabon said. "I felt proud of myself and I felt honored to escort him back out of the hole."
Pabon said he found a bag with some items sitting on top of a generator, which he took home because it was "calling me."
Among the items was an address book and a Bible that was perfectly intact. By calling one of the numbers, he said he was able to find the owner of the Bible. The woman, he said, lived five minutes away from his home, and she was grateful her Bible was returned.
Pabon said the woman told him she was on the main floor of the World Trade Center and ran out while people around her died.
"The tears starting flowing from her eyes after I returned her Bible," Pabon said. "I know she was grateful to be alive. I know she prays for me, and I'm grateful to her for that."
Pabon's final message was to "do the right thing" in life no matter what, and be positive.
"You can find peace within yourself every moment of the day," he said. "Be peaceful, be easy."
Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.