The scent of death- is an unmistakable smell.
I remember it well –
I lived fighting the stain of death – the stain of war, and the horrific aftermath for months after the attack by a group of terrorists on September 11, 2001 against our nation and the thousands of unsuspecting innocent American citizens: Woman and men, Daughters and Sons, Granddaughters and Grandsons, Wives and Husbands, friends, co-workers and yes even young children all who were doing nothing out of the ordinary for a typical Tuesday morning has defined a generation much like December 7, 1941 – Pearl Harbor Day defined the generation before.
As I sat down to write this, the smell of death came rushing back.
I still can taste death in the air… I can still feel its presence in the grim piles of rubble and smoking debris from the burnt offices, pulverized concrete and human decay at ground Zero.
I cannot shake what I saw and experience at ground Zero – I spent years training – and even more years training others to help people – and I could not do anything except pick up pieces … friends, loved ones and co-workers all underneath the rubble … and I … I was saved. . . I was able to go back home to the loving arms of my wife… where many others could not. . .
I was left wondering why… and the guilt set in.
To many when we see the American Flag we see it as a National symbol – however on 9/11 and the days following while working at ground zero as a firefighter medic involved with the search and rescue at ground Zero, the flag became something much more to me.
Each time a fellow brother in Fire or Police were pulled from the rubble –each time a citizen was pulled from the rubble each were placed in a stokes basket and the basket was draped with an American Flag.
Even now 16 years later each time I see the American Flag, be it as a sticker on the side of a police vehicle, on a First responders uniform, or waving attached to a Tower Climber in the WISP industry going up a tower, I remember the many bodies I had the privileged to help carry to peace.
Today you are asked to remember all of those of whom, on September 11, 2001 lost their lives as well as those who lost their lives due to Cancer or other illness after working at ground zero.
For years I had worked in EMS and Fire in New Jersey– I have had to deal with many fatalities from innocent children to gang members who were in their own version of war – but 9/11 and the months following to this day still haunt my soul.
While driving in to the city our ambulance was rocked by people holding signs – and stopping us to hand us water, hugs – prayers and sharing tears.
Sadly our rigs were also under attack by others of which sadly agreed with the actions of those who flew the planes into the building as an attack on our way of life and the freedoms many of our military, fire fighters ems and police officers have sacrificed with their very lives to secure.
I had a rookie on board who was driving. He thought it was best to use the siren to get the people out of the way so we could get through the city to our staging area. I calmly reached over and turned the siren off – as I looked at the people’s faces I realized something – We, as First Responders just minutes into the attack, were literally the only sign of hope in a city in despair -masked in acres of rubble where roads, cars and a concrete haze hid the scorched and scarred faces that were looking at us empty – left without meaning.
The siren only added to the shock – and our presence was supposed to be calming. I reached over and turned it off… our response even if it were 10 minutes later would be one that would take days and weeks or so we thought – ended up being months instead…
If you have ever been to New York – you will learn that even at the latest hour of the day – there are cars and buses – taxis and limo’s driving people all over the city – it was an eerie feeling as we drew closer to ground zero –
We saw a sea of people all walking, some so drained mentally and emotionally you could see they were using every last ounce of their strength to drag themselves just to the next step. – and suddenly it was all quite.
Hardly a sound.
When we arrived just one block down from the collapse of the first tower on Vesey street the realization of the devastation set in…
We were assigned to go through the many surrounding buildings to search for survivors – sadly we did not find many. I can remember a secondary collapse in which I had to dive under a fire truck for safety – all the while thinking if the building is coming down there is no way this truck is going to save me.
The first rule any EMS, Firefighter or Police officer learns is Scene Safety – look out for potential hazards.
The truth is – the members of the FDNY, NYPD the Port Authority Police as well as the numerous responders like myself coming from various mutual aid companies knew they were running into the most dangerous situation.
As bodies were descending at the speed of gravity First Responders were climbing as quickly as possible.
Scene safety was not paramount upon arrival for these Hero’s but rather getting in – and saving as many lives as possible –
Can you imagine running to save others knowing that your life was not in jeopardy but most likely already over with each step you took ?
This is what each person who works as a First Responder, the folks who answer when 911 is dialed does. Just like those who responded with me to what we now call Ground Zero in New York as well as the Pentagon.
I still remember hearing radio traffic that day go suddenly silent and hours later being handed a radio to use from a Ham Operator tells me that we were FAR FROM READY, FAR FROM PREPARED …. we knew it, every first responder knew it but the enormous task at hand needed to be completed.
A few days later I was exhausted and walking back from the Cafeteria – a fancy name for what really was a boat which until the terrorist attack was used to shuttle tourists around the water ways so they could “tour the city” and I found a priest ripping off his clothes screaming at God asking Him
Why and Where.
Where are you now God… he demanded to know.
I walked over to help what obviously any Medic trained would could identify as a man who was mentally breaking down and in need of help.
I asked him his name – and he answered – I asked him why he doubted God’s presence and he pulled me by my collar over to a blue suv and read to me the note out loud –
“Dear NYPD – I am a nurse – Please don’t tow my car – AND if you find this please tell my husband and my children that I love them and if I do not make it let them know I am fulfilling John 15:13”
He demanded to know from me if I could explain how God could let this happen.
I sat with him for what seemed like hours – but was really only just a few minutes and felt the warm glow of the sun coming up over the horizon – as I looked up I saw a cross in the distance – this cross had tons of first responders underneath it frantically digging and working, struggling to find anyone who could have possibly survived.
I answered the priest and said – until now I never really could answer your question – or even that question for myself long before what happened yesterday but I do know one thing – Even as I walk through this Valley of Death the Lord is near me – He comforts Me and in the end I will lie down in Green Pastures.
I pointed to the Cross – and he asked me if I would pray for him as he had “lost the words to speak to God”, I began with the Lord’s prayer – which he recited with me.
I never was able to find that priest again – even after searching – but I will never forget what he told me ” Glenn, I have a renewed faith and even in this tragedy I know that it is a promise SURELY goodness and mercy – the Love of our Father will follow us all the days of our lives – let me go and share the good news.”
The Good news I thought.
Good News? I stood there pondering the Good News myself.
The love of a God who sent his own Son to lay his life down so that we could be free. So that we could find salvation through his sacrifice.
On September 13, 2001 response crews uncovered a 20-foot cross. In the Center of the wreckage of the North tower through the filtered sunlight sifting through the acrid smoke still rising from what was a 16 acre wasteland… Stood the Cross.
This Cross was not a product of Human Hands – but a reminder.
Two Steel beams forged in the forged by the fire of Hatred for our pursuit of Life Liberty and Happiness revealed as rubble was cleared away became a powerful reminder of how Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice.
This Christian symbol of faith and hope became a place for responders exhausted and grief-stricken to come to and reflect, to stop and ponder, to pray and know that God is there with each of us in our time of trouble.
The Cross gave each responder HOPE in that wretched place. AND – The CROSS can give you HOPE today.
This is the Good News that each of us, today, are given freely through Jesus Christ.
For those who are struggling – I want to simply remind you also of that promise God has made us – He will Never Leave us or Forsake us – even when we are walking through the valley of the shadow of Death – His Rod and His staff are there to comfort us.
Roughly a week later, I finally got a break from ground zero for a few days and while driving back home I stopped at a small Baptist church in Hoboken NJ on the other side of the tunnel – ran to find a bible and opened it to John 15:13
From the over 350 EMS, Fire and Police officers – as well as the countless other volunteers including building security and the other nameless who helped, from the folks who downed the plane in Shanksville PA, and from that nurse who most assuredly was killed we as a nation learned a lesson that most have already forgotten – except perhaps those who are still serving daily putting their lives in front of harm’s way day by day:
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
I pray for our nation, as once again we are sliding back into a position away from Greatness, focusing on Self and not on the needs of our Brothers and Sisters our common partner in this great Republic.
e pluribus unum – From Many One.
We are One Nation Indivisible – We are Partners with a Contract of the Constitution between our nation and its people. Today First Responders across America are the ones who are focused on protecting your lives, your liberties, your freedoms and yes even your pursuit of happiness – even if it means sacrificing their own.
It is imperative to remember even though our way of life that was attacked –
Our way of life that embraces freedom and democracy,
Our way of life that rewards hard work and perseverance, and yet encourages selflessness and generosity,
Our way of life that recognizes and respects varying opinions in society, and still preserves the rights of all to express those opinions,
Our way of life that allows us to worship freely and to look differently.
The United States of America remains one of the most desirable places on this planet to live;
not because of the beautiful areas like Meigs County Ohio, the plentiful farms, or our hills, valleys, mountains and rivers,
not for the inventions and school systems…
America is one of the most desirable places to live because of our Freedom and the contract each citizen has with each other and our nation.
America is one of the most desirable places to live because of the determination and courage of her people.
America is desirable because our Spirit is defined by our ability to move forward in the aftermath of overwhelming loss and remembering those who sacrifice their lives on a daily basis to secure our way of life.
America is a magnet for folks all over the world desiring freedom.
Today the proud brave soldiers who have sacrificed years of their lives to secure your freedom have not given up that fight.
Today the proud brave Firefighters from various volunteer agencies across this great country have not given up that fight.
Today the Awesome Paramedic and Emergency Medical Technicians who valiantly save lives have not given up that fight.
Today the Brave Peace Officers stand as well in the same fight.
Today there are members of Community Emergency Response Teams who are mobilized in various parts of the Country – from helping families to safety in the midst of wildfires to those who are just starting to recover from a Hurricane and others who are literally hunkering down waiting to help with the cleanup once the storm passes.
Tomorrow and each day after that – they will each wake up and do the same.
Each of these special people are dedicated to ensuring you have the freedoms guaranteed to each person who comes to this Great Nation. . .
Each stand ready to sacrifice their lives for this Great Nation.
Jesus Himself in the hours before his Brutal death – at his own Ground ZERO went to his Father in prayer
I would ask that each of you do the same after reading this
Father, God, You are the Great Healer,
You know sacrifice as you sent your Son, Christ Jesus to be a sacrifice for us.
You understand pain, dedication to another before oneself.
You alone are the salvation for your people, for this nation – for this world.
Today we pray for divine guidance,
Guidance for each first responder – be it a soldier, be it an Peace Officer, a Firefighter or a Medic, A nurse or a doctor,
We pray that you will bless each and keep them as they faithfully respond to each emergency called upon, as each takes on the task of being your hands, your feet, your loving arm of compassion.
We pray for this nation, that it will continually return to growing mature in your ways and being a beacon of Light to a world full of loss.
We pray that you will prepare each First Responder across this Great Nation to be prepared both emotionally, physically and spiritually to respond when called.
Keep them safe and let your Glory be shown through each.
We pray that you would remind each citizen of the sacrifice of each Emergency Responder as they place their own safety aside, as they ask relatively little concerning their own selves and instead work on behalf of others
We pray that you would cover each with your hand. Fortify them – Protect them by the Power of Your Nme – Watch over and Preserve them, Preserve this Nation.
Unify each department represented here today together – Be it the Thin Blue line of Law Enforcement, The Red Line of Fire Fighters, the White Line of Paramedics and EMT’s
We plead for your protection for each.
Thank you for instilling the heart of a servant in each man and women as well as their families who stand before you here today.
Now unto him who is able to keep us from falling and able to present us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior be glory and majesty, dominion and power – both now and forever.
All Lives Matter.
Police Officers Lives,
Paramedic and EMT’s Lives
Nurses, Doctors and Security Guards Lives matter.
Even Criminals lives matter.
Somewhere we lost the idea of how fragile human life actually is – how precious this gift we have been given not only of our own lives but that of our families – our friends and even those we disagree with.
Human Lives Matter. This is perhaps the most important lesson 9/11 taught me.