I’ve driven across the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York plenty of times, looking down the Hudson River to the Manhattan Skyline. On the morning of September 11, 2001, at a time when a friend and I were attending The Salvation Army College for Officer Training in Suffern, NY, we drove over the bridge after dropping off a seminar presenter at the John F. Kennedy International Airport. Only this time, we saw a thick, ominous haze over the skyline.
After returning home and changing into our uniforms, my friend called me down the stairs to see the broadcast of the horrific attack of the World Trade Center that was being reported live in the news. A few minutes later, we watched live as the World Trade Center’s South Tower collapsed.
Within hours of the attacks, my wife and I were at Ground Zero. I remember going down the West Side Highway and arriving to West Village just above Ground Zero. National Guard troops were standing there in full combat gear, holding their rifles. As vans from The Salvation Army arrived to the scene, staff waved to us and said, “We need you! We need you!” Mobile feeding units were set up in various areas, and I was sent about three blocks north of Ground Zero. From 5:30 in the afternoon to 5:30 the next morning, I served water, coffee, food and clothing to residents, employees, really all passersby in the area.
Seeing the debris and feeling the smell of the fire burn through my nostrils was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. I remember the sheer agony of people coming out of the dust as they would leave their apartments. The dust was so thick that even a few days later, you were taking water and dumping it all over your face just to rid of it. My wife was assigned to morgue duty, where she had done grief counseling.
Throughout the months following, several of us, as well as The Salvation Army Greater New York Division would return to Ground Zero and continue to provide essentials to construction workers at the scene and nearby residents. More than 59,000 people were served through services like clothing and food assistance, crisis counseling and group therapy, childcare, employment training and placement, financial assistance, homelessness services, and more. Other divisions such as The Salvation Army National Capital Area Command, the Virginia Division, the New Jersey Division, and The Western Pennsylvania Division played significant roles in the relief efforts.
And of course, the army behind The Salvation Army stepped in, donating around $86 million to help us respond to the attacks. The majority of the funds donated by the public were used for necessities like food, steel-toed boots for the rescue workers and volunteers, socks, eye drops, rest stations and more.
The 20th anniversary of 9/11 comes at a time when Mother Nature has just taken its own course with Hurricane Ida, leaving thousands and communities in need for basic necessities and financial assistance to keep roofs over their heads. As we are in the mode and mindset of helping these people through this rough patch, we remember our loved ones who lost their lives 20 years ago, and we continue to grieve with their families. The Salvation Army prays and is here for each and every one of you.
Lt. Col. Larry Ashcraft is the Divisional Commander for The Salvation Army Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware Division.
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