NEW MILFORD -- Somber skies were a fitting backdrop for the eighth annual memorial ceremony of one of the most somber moments in America's history -- the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that felled the World Trade Center, ripped a hole in the Pentagon and downed an airplane in a Pennsylvania field.

All told, those attacks killed almost 3,000 people, including firefighters and emergency responders who raced to rescue the trapped and wounded and themselves did not survive.

About 100 local residents and civic leaders gathered at the memorial site on Patriot's Way erected a year after the attacks to honor those lost on that clear, blue-sky day.

New Milford's ceremony was one of several throughout the area. It began with the tolling of bells and a flag raising at 8:46 a.m., the moment the first plane crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City.

Mayor Patricia Murphy opened the program by reading a proclamation from Gov. M. Jodi Rell:

"Sept. 11 is a solemn anniversary that reminds us all of the fragility of human life, also of the strength and resiliency of the human spirit,'' Rell wrote. "The day serves as a somber occasion that will forever bring to mind images of destruction, despair and memories of those we lost in the attacks on our nation.

"But equally powerful," she continued, "will always be the vivid memories of heroism, selflessness and courage that formed common bonds among caring citizens everywhere. This day, ultimately, brought us closer as a people and strengthened the fabric of our nation.''

Surrounding the town's memorial site Friday were easels with photographs -- unforgettable images of the events -- that prompted tears, and a few sobs, from those paying their respects.

New York City Fire Marshal Jack Delancy, visiting for the occasion, said he will never forget arriving at the World Trade Center during the time between the collapse of two towers to see fire trucks sliced in half and broken bodies everywhere.

"The destruction I saw was unbelievable,'' DeLancy told the crowd with a grimace of memory.

The four days he spent at ground zero were the hardest of his career, yet he was gratified by the labor and caring of firefighters and other volunteers from around the world.

"New York was not alone,'' Delancy said. "We came together as a nation.''

Resident Pat O'Brien's voice quavered as she recalled seeing the horror unfold on television, witnessing destruction in a city where she worked for years.

"I couldn't believe what was happening,'' said O'Brien, whose husband, Ray, is a Town Council member. "And it tore me apart.''

She said the town's annual ceremony is the best way she can think of to honor the memory of all those who died that day.

"We should never forget what happened,'' O'Brien proclaimed.

The service ended with Patrick Maguire playing "Amazing Grace'' on the bagpipes.