The big man did not let himself cry in front of the crowd. He stopped and took a deep breath.
For Otto Sandleben, the division chief of training and safety for Largo Fire Rescue, the memory of that fateful day eight years ago sent a "zing right to my heart.''
Sandleben was one of three Largo officials who spoke during the "Hearts Across the Palms, Remembering Our Heroes of 9/11'' on Friday. The memorial service drew more than 100 people to the Regal Palms dining room at Palms of Largo.
The 60-minute service kicked off with six members of the Clearwater High School Marine Corps Junior ROTC Color Guard presenting the colors. In addition to Sandleben, other speakers were Mayor Pat Gerard, police Chief Lester Aradi, Pastor Jim Whiteside of Church of Regal Palms and several directors from Palms of Largo. Also on hand for the breakfast program with residents of the assisted living community were members of Largo's City Commission.
Although it is not an official city event, Palms of Largo has hosted the city's top brass for four years during its 9/11 ceremony.
Sept. 11 "is truly a historic event, and we feel it is important to invite the city leaders,'' said Jeni Coticchio, executive director of Caregiver Support Network for Palms of Largo, who was on the 9/11 committee for the Palms of Largo.
Sandleben was almost overcome with emotion as he spoke about the day of the terrorist attacks and how his New York colleagues responded.
"In my job, I'm a rock, but I know so well how the fire and rescue workers went about their work," he said. "They were doing their job without thinking of consequences. Up there when I was speaking, it got me for a minute.''