Remembering 9/11: Stories of Service
This year marks the 21st anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. Those who remember that day have their own story about where they were when they heard the news, and the emotions they felt watching the events unfold.
As a tribute to those who served, The Salvation Army Indiana Division invited five Hoosiers who had the honor of serving as Salvation Army volunteers in New York during the months-long response to share their stories with us. Donald Kaufman, Jerry Larson, Linda and Mark Pierle, and Jo Ann Remender all played a part in ‘Compassion Under Fire’, the name given to The Salvation Army’s legacy during the 9/11 response.
“Being able to reminisce brings back a lot of memories,” said Mark. “It’s not something you think about every day, but when you do, you think of service.” Mark and his wife, Linda, volunteered together, ministering to the workers at Ground Zero charged with the heavy task of searching for remains.
The Salvation Army was the first relief agency to arrive at Ground Zero on the morning of September 11. The response began with setting up canteens and makeshift structures where individuals involved could receive emotional and spiritual care and a hot cup of coffee. However, this disaster was unlike any other the country had experienced, as those involved were not in need of clothes and hygiene products. What they needed was harder to come by: comfort and hope for their future.
The Salvation Army was prepared to fulfill their needs. “The New York Division was amazing,” Jerry recalled. “They were all so busy you wondered how they had time to even say hello.” Jerry was largely stationed at The Salvation Army’s main offices in New York City, assisting with the coordination of efforts at multiple sites.
To give relief to the New York Division, The Salvation Army gathered officers, staff, and volunteers from across the U.S. and Canada to serve alongside them. “You never knew what job you were going to receive,” added Jo Ann. “When you arrived, everyone thought, What does God have for me to do? He empowered us all to do what was needed of them at that moment.” Jo Ann served in a plywood structure built on the side of the local hospital, offering comfort and food to medical examiners working around the clock.
Because of the hot ash and piles of debris, there was a worry of contamination. New York tasked the Environmental Protection Agency to replace many of the canteens and makeshift structures with a large tent for decontamination purposes, soon to be coined “The Taj Mahal.”
“Rudy Giuliani, the mayor of New York City at the time, came to The Salvation Army,” Jerry recalled. “He asked us to serve food and provide emotional and spiritual care from the Taj Mahal.” The large tent became the center of services at Ground Zero.
Don Kaufman shared memories of providing emotional and spiritual care within the tent. “I sat down and talked with a man one day. I could tell something was wrong, so I asked him if he was okay. He responded, ‘I just keep remembering. I just keep remembering. I see that tower falling, and I just keep remembering.’ It made a profound impression on me.”
Over the next 9 months, 40,000 individuals stepped up to serve on behalf of The Salvation Army. The sight of their warm smiles, warm hearts, and warm red Salvation Army jackets brought comfort to all who worked at and visited recovery sites in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.
“We wore our red Salvation Army jackets to and from the site. People would show us so much compassion. They would give up their seats to let us sit down after we served a shift,” Linda explained.
“I can remember walking back to my room after a long shift,” added Jo Ann. “I heard someone behind me say, ‘You see that lady in the red jacket? She knows how to talk to God.’ I have never forgotten those words. It’s an honor to be a part of an organization with that reputation.”
The Salvation Army was, and continues to be, a bright light for individuals who feel like all hope is gone. Hebrews 6:10 reminds us, “God will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people.” May we always remember those who lost their lives and those who had the honor to serve in the days, weeks, and months after the attacks on September 11, 2001.