Reflections of 9/11

During the tumultuous months after 9/11 many brave Salvation Army officers, employees and soldiers from the Central Territory served the United States by offering their hard work and expertise. Some of these courageous individuals shared with us their duties, feelings and experiences during this difficult, yet hope filled, time.

Colonel ArnoldLt. Colonel Donald Arnold

Salvation Army site supervisor at the Medical Examiner's Office

About a month after the horrific terrorist acts of September 11, 2001, retired Lt. Colonel Donald Arnold was sent to serve as The Salvation Army site supervisor at the New York City Medical Examiner's Office, a unit which included the morgue, dental investigation center and Memorial Park (18 semi-trucks filled with human remains).

His main responsibility was to orientate volunteers; he trained a new group almost every day. He also was often called upon to bless the bodies of the deceased. But the colonel served in every capacity needed from making coffee in the morning, to working the foodline grilling up ham and cheese sandwiches to feed the hungry volunteers.

"I enjoy my work keeping things moving smoothly in our disaster center," wrote the colonel in a journal entry. "Sometimes I do get tried of standing; my knees, legs and back ache, but I know how to divert the pain. I simply sit down for a couple of minutes; then it's up ‘n at ‘em again!"

Colonel Arnold often undertook the daunting responsibility of conducting a small service for families who came to collect the bodies of their loved ones. Colonel Arnold held such a service for Paul Keating, an off-duty fireman whose body was found near the entrance to the World Trade Center. Paul lived across the street at the time of the explosion. His body was found in the dirt where he was said to be helping survivors through the revolving doors in the short time before the building collapsed.

"The ceremony was brief," wrote Colonel Arnold. "I prayed for our country, the family and for peace." When the flag-draped gurney came out from the medical examiner's building Mrs. Keating and her daughter sobbed. Paul's father and other siblings stood by in silence.  

During Colonel Arnold's first evening off duty, he visited Ground Zero. "Ground Zero is a terrible sight," he wrote. "So much destruction, so much pain."

Nevertheless, people there were united together in purpose under God. The Colonel observed this firsthand when the entire city stopped-from cars to workmen to cranes-for the body of one policeman brought up from the pit. "The incident," said Colonel Arnold, "showed me the great respect that was shown to all victims."

LeeceTerri Leece

Ground Zero feeding operation

Terri Leece, disaster services director for the Wisconsin and Upper Michigan Division of The Salvation Army, developed a new appreciation for emergency response workers-and life in general-after managing the Ground Zero feeding operation for two weeks in New York City. More than 7,000 meals were served each day to emergency workers in a large tent next to the pit where the World Trade Center towers once stood.

"I was so exhausted after 12 days; I don't know how those response workers continued to toil at the site day after day, taking no time off  [since September 11th]," said Terri, who served there in February 2002.

"Since the disaster, I no longer worry about the little things of life. And, I have a greater appreciation of time spent with family and friends," she added.  

StepkeMajor Gloria Stepke

Pier 39 social services  

When Major Gloria Stepke arrived in New York City to serve for two weeks in December 2001 she was assigned to Pier 39, the enormous warehouse on the river near Ground Zero, to perform social services intake interviews for displaced residents, affected businesses and their employees. (The warehouse also housed assistance caseworkers for 9/11 survivors and families of victims.)

"The need for financial assistance was still great," said Gloria, who quickly earned a reputation as a "trouble shooter" because of her access to other agencies in the warehouse that offered financial aid (FEMA for grants, the Red Cross for rent assistance and The Salvation Army for utilities).

"My uniform opened doors for meeting the special needs of many people, such as a businessman who had continued to pay his employees' salaries yet now was broke himself. He was a new man after we got him the help he needed," added Gloria, who was in a position to also offer spiritual and emotional support as a Salvation Army officer, as well as devising creative solutions for assistance.

Even though it was hard to hear so many heart-breaking stories of need, loss of lives and livelihoods, Gloria felt privileged to be used by God in New York.

Colonel NautaLt. Colonel James Nauta

Pentagon spiritual care work

Jim was in the Washington, D.C., area for a committee meeting at Salvation Army National Headquarters when he heard the explosion and ensuing commotion. When news came that the Pentagon had been hit, the committee members-officers involved in social services-offered their services.

"Our uniforms opened up opportunities to minister that we would not have had otherwise," said Jim. "We had a police escort to the site then were allowed access to the  point of attack by a high-ranking military chaplain who happened to be a graduate of Asbury College. It was a blessing to be in the midst of the crisis, praying with people and providing emotional and spiritual support," Jim continued.

"One head chaplain was particularly traumatized. When the plane hit the building, he had been on the other side of the Pentagon attending a meeting on, ironically, disaster response procedures," said Jim. "The chaplain was overcome with grief and guilt that his support staff had more than likely perished in the explosion."

Jim said the Pentagon experience was something he'll never forget (he'd also done disaster response work after the Oklahoma City bombing).

"It was heart-wrenching. My prayer is that we'll never have to face a crisis of this magnitude again," Jim concluded.

Major WilliamsMajor Dianna Williams

Phone bank supervisor

In the weeks following September 11, 2001, Major Dianna Williams was assigned to run a tremendous phone bank at The Salvation Army's Central Territorial Headquarters in Des Plaines, Ill. The phone bank took up a large room in the complex's conference center and was lined from front to back with tables and phones. Every phone had a person in place to field questions and concerns, and the calls flooded in.

"My day would start at the crack of dawn, and I'd be there until late at night," recalled Dianna. "Someone would continue through the night because people called in at all hours from every state." Dianna did everything from answer phones to brief volunteers to ensure everyone had a box of tissues at hand. She also directed or handled tough phone calls and questions.

Typically people called in to The Salvation Army's phone bank for one of four reasons: to donate money or supplies, inquire about military enrollment, to pour their hearts out about spiritual matters, or to ask for help finding a loved one.

Many of the phone calls were positive. "It gives me chills just thinking about it," said Dianna. "The overwhelming support of people; they'd call and say things like, ‘I have a truck full of water, and I'm on my way to New York City right now. Where can I bring it?' Or, ‘I don't have much money, but I'm going to send you what I've got.' Everyone was affected, and they just wanted to do something about it."

Some calls were extremely difficult. Often those who lost loved ones were filled with doubts and questions about why God would allow such a terrible circumstance. If they weren't Christians, it could be especially difficult for Salvation Army operators to explain. One person called just to say he would never claim God after this terrible situation.

But the power and presence of the Holy Spirit was evident over the phone lines. "Every time you walked into that room there was a spirit of goodness," Dianna recalled. "God really used me during this time. And that's exactly why I became an officer: to be used by God."

McPhersonMajor Patrick McPherson

Emergency radio operations

Involved in Salvation Army emergency disaster services work in one way or another for several decades, Pat was the national director of SATERN (Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network) and divisional director of emergency services in the Metropolitan (Chicago area) in September 2001.

A SATERN command center was set up at Central Territorial Headquarters where "radio operators literally had the entire world on our frequency," said Pat. Emergency requests and communications between responders were expertly handled, such as conveying blood bank data from California directly to Ground Zero. (SATERN is now housed in a high-tech emergency command center and warehouse near O'Hare International Airport.)

Pat also manned a canteen for five days feeding passengers and employees stranded at O'Hare during the air traffic shut-down. A canteen also supported the police response to a near riot at a Chicago-suburban mosque.

"9/11 was a terrible day in U.S. history. When the second airplane hit the World Trade Center, I knew it was terrorism. We'd been talking about such a day coming for years in emergency management, even before the unthinkable happened with domestic terrorism in the Oklahoma City attack. My first thought as the 10th anniversary approached is that our country must keep its guard up against another attack. Beyond that we must always be wary and ready," Pat concluded.


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