Recollections of 9/11

By: Linda Day, Midland Division 

Linda Day and Shirley Lawson-Carr of the Midland Division serve at the World Trade Center in December of 2001.

From the minute I heard about the attack on the World Trade Center, I knew that I wanted to volunteer in some way.  I finally worked up the courage to ask my boss, Major Robert Thomson, if I could be considered to go to New York. He said he would consider it, but that I was already responding as our office was responsible for making the arrangements for the deployment of the volunteers going to New Yorkfrom Midland Division.  

At first, the responders who went were Officers, Caseworkers, and our own Emergency Disaster Team.  I fretted as I didn’t have any particular skills other than a desire to serve those who had worked so tirelessly since September 11th so, I just waited for the opportunity.  When I read that the Salvation Army was going to open a huge tent (later called the Taj Mahal) to serve meals, I knew that the time was right. 

On December 10th, nearly 2 months after the events of September 11, 2001, I arrived in Manhattan as part of a two-person team.  Shirley Lawson and I were selected to go to New York for a 2-week deployment.  As we worked our way through the orientation process at the New York Divisional Headquarters, we finally arrived late that night at our hotel in lower Manhattan.  We were told to report for work the next morning at 6:00 a.m. It was raining that morning and we had about a 2-block walk to the tent.  As we got closer, you could still smell the smoke that was coming from the “pit” which we could see in the distance.  We were both walking under the same umbrella when we turned a corner and caught sight of the image that we had seen so many times on TV. It was of the mangled steel structures illuminated by the bright search lights.  It took our breath away, and at that moment, we stopped and prayed that God would protect us and use us for good over the next two weeks.

After arriving at the tent, we met the other 15-20 members of our team who had come from all over the country, including Canada.  The ‘command’ person for our shift happened to be the Administrative Assistant to the Divisional Commander from Nova Scotia, so the three of us became fast friends.  Shirley was soon assigned to be a driver of one of the many 4-wheel drive vehicles called ‘Gators” that were seen zipping around the streets around the work site.  Her job was to deliver supplies to the other locations that were still positioned around the area.  Many of the workers had been working 24/7 since the attack and because of their particular job and proximity to the Taj Mahal, they chose not to come into the tent for meals or snacks, so the Army continued to serve where they were working.  To come into the tent meant that the workers had to go through decontamination showers, which meant more time away from their job, so most of the workers only came in one time a day for a hot meal and to get in out of the cold for awhile.  The tent had only been on site for about a week prior to our arrival, so things kept changing those first few days.  It was really an education and I leaned to be flexible and to ‘go with the flow’ and do what I could – when I could.  I cleaned tables, stocked the comfort area (clean socks, toiletries, candy, gum, etc), swept the floor, served on the cafeteria line and cut so many pies I stopped counting after the first day. 

The Salvation Army had partnered with a company called Witson Catering and they arranged for many of the famous New York restaurants to cater food into the tent, so we had some of the finest cuisine in the world which we were told to serve “in abundance.”  The Incident Command Officer, Major Polarak, told us that these men and women had lost so much, that the best thing we could do for them was to provide as much food as they could eat; not to give anyone the impression that we “were running low” on anything.  We were to be upbeat, encouraging, available to talk and, above all, to listen.  I interacted with literally hundreds of policemen, fire fighters, iron workers and construction workers every day and often had the opportunity to sit with them and have a conversation over a cup of coffee.  I prayed with many of them as they were missing their families and children.  Most of them knew they could not leave their work until it was finished.  When would that be, no one could say.  While Shirley and I were there, the fire that had burned for so long was finally extinguished; the last body was pulled from the rubble, and I witnessed the workers pulling a fire truck out of the hole.  Ten years later, I learned that the fire truck will be part of the permanent memorial.    

As Christmas approached, decorations and Christmas trees were placed in the tent, and just down the street was the very famous cross that was found in the wreckage.  This was soon joined by a giant Menorah, a manger scene and other symbols of the season.  Cards, banners and ornaments made by school children from all over the country arrived daily by the box load.  Often I would see a fire fighter in full gear, sitting all alone at a table wiping away a tear as they read the sentiments written by the children. Not a day passed by that these heroes didn’t thank me for being there.  I would turn this around as quickly as I could, because it was me who was so grateful that they were there and that I could be of service. 

Many years ago I wrote down a quote from one of the Generals of The Salvation Army where he said that, “The Salvation Army is to be the glove on the hand of God.  I remembered that quote during my stint at Ground Zero and today when I am able to respond to someone in need during a disaster.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a hot meal, handing out water, clean-up kits or praying with someone – we are God’s representative at that moment and He is the one who compels us to respond to the need.  My prayer is that I can always respond, in some way, when there is a need. 

All too soon it was time to leave, but we had to do one thing before we left…we had to go to the debriefing meeting.  I was a little intimidated by this as I really didn’t want to talk and share all of the things that I had experienced.  I soon learned that this too is part of responding to a disaster.  I kept a journal in which I recorded one good thing and one bad thing that happened every day.  I shared some of these things in the meeting.  Going through the debriefing helped me put everything about the disaster back in perspective and to get back to work.  It was a little surreal those first few days of getting back to a routine that didn’t involve the smells, sounds and sights of destruction and mayhem all around, but I knew that I had been able to accomplish my goal for those two weeks and now it was up to the other volunteers to have a chance to be of service.  My job was to prepare myself for the next time I would be needed.

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