ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Anthony Cruz vividly remembers the beautiful clear blue sky over the eastern seaboard as if it were yesterday.

It was September 11, 2001, and Cruz had taken a train from his home in New Jersey to his stop in the basement of the World Trade Center. He was having a breakfast sandwich at his favorite deli with friends when he first realized something was wrong.

"I heard screams and saw people running to exit the building," Cruz told an APG audience of nearly 300 during the 2011 Patriot Day, 10th Anniversary Remembrance Ceremony here Sept. 9.

"I got out of there, too," he quickly added.

"When I got out I looked up and saw smoke billowing from the building. I thought, 'Wow! This is a towering inferno, just like the movie.'"

It was the beginning of a long day for Cruz, a Ground Zero survivor of the devastating terrorist attack on our county.

"To my dismay, something that looked like paper flying through the air was people falling to their deaths. I screamed, 'Don't jump!' and then saw the second plane hit the building.

"Debris started flying and we jumped for cover under a postal truck. I broke my cell phone and realized I hadn't called anyone to tell them I was all right.

"My thoughts ran to my family. I needed to let them know I was okay," Cruz continued.

Needing to make a telephone call, Cruz went to his office in a building across the street from the WTC.

"The building had lost power and it was pitch-black. Everyone around me was in a panic. One of my colleagues started to scream and it was then that I knew we needed to get out of the building.

"I yelled for everyone to hold hands and meet me at the [interior] wall. We then made our way in the dark to the staircase and then to safety.

"Once we were outside, the WTC collapsed -- boom, boom, boom, like dominoes falling -- and we all ran to the Holland Tunnel. I had never run so far or so fast in my life.

Once travel restrictions were lifted in the city, Cruz caught a train back to New Jersey.

"When I arrived, CIA officials were there to greet me. They took me somewhere and interrogated me, and then release me. I got home at about 3 a.m. -- a long day, indeed."

Cruz said since that fateful day he has been filled with a renewed sense of patriotism.

His job required a good deal of travel, and at one airport layover he decided to stop for a beer. He noticed three young Soldiers having a meal and asked the waitress to bring him their check.

"When the three Soldiers approached me they said 'Thank you!' And I looked at them and said with great pride, 'It is we, the people, who thank you. Be safe!'"

"9/11 was a day that changed history. It remains a vivid memory for me and, I suspect, for all Americans."

Cruz said being asked to speak to the 9/11 ceremony was a bit of a catharsis.

"It warms my heart to be with you here today, knowing of the great sacrifices so many of you have made over the past 10 years," he said.

Afterwards, Cruz said he was grateful for being able to talk about his experience.

"I've finally learned how to mourn. So thank you for providing this opportunity to me," he said, a small tear forming in his eye.

Cruz was accompanied by his 19-year-old son Brian and wife Donna. The family now resides in Port Deposit, Md.

Page last updated Fri September 9th, 2011 at 00:00