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Xavier Magazine | August 24, 2017

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Emails from Sept. 11

J. Hunter Brown to a friend, Sept. 11, 2001, 11:12 p.m.:
I spent all day in the Wall Street area and just got home. Couldn’t get out. It was like a volcano eruption. Ash covered most of lower Manhattan, as deep as two inches far from the blast. Empty shoes and baby carriages in the streets. People wearing face masks to ward off the smoke. An eerie scene of cars trapped in a large parking lot on the FDR. Camaraderie: a pack of cigarettes passed to and returned from a neighboring car. Cops covered in gray dust of ash. Cop cadets directing traffic to anywhere but here. According to a cop I spoke with Afghani students at Pace University, immediately adjacent to City Hall, were celebrating the news of the destruction.

The fireman responded to the scene in 3 minutes and tried to evacuate the buildings only to be buried by the collapse. Massive inflows of earth moving and construction equipment coming down the West Side Highway. F-15’s circling NYC airspace, now a no fly zone. Choppers running to and from the naval ships in the harbor. the police and fireman have been exemplary and heroic in all respects.

So far I know of none of my friends missing, but its too early to tell. As of 10:50 pm the medical personnel are waiting for the injured to show up in size, but my guess is that there will be few survivors beyond those that are already out. There is just nothing left.

From Katherine Bergman to friends, Sept. 12, 2001, 9:30 a.m.:
I was typing a short paper for class when the phone rang. I wasn’t going to answer it, but it was Elizabeth, my boss. I was to wake the other proctors for an evacuation: the World Trade Center was collapsing and the Pentagon had been hit. I called Erin’s room: her uncle works at the Pentagon. I called Joseph, who can sleep through much, and he didn’t answer. I went to beat on his door, but could hardly speak when he opened it. Already, there were so many people dead in New York and D.C., but crying doesn’t help when 31 16-year-olds need you to be the one with composure.

There was a plane flying over the Capitol, where our kids work as Senate pages. Staff there told them to run, just run, and if they dropped anything not to stop. The Pentagon was in flames right across the Potomac and the Capitol would be a high profile second hit for terrorists. They ran home to us. We’d sent a few hurried e-mails, thrown apples and Pop Tarts into garbage bags for the trip, and packed our vans with adolescents. After committing not a few traffic violations, driving on the sidewalk and getting into a minor fender bender in a government van, we headed east on Pennsylvania Avenue toward Maryland. Neither Erin, nor Joe nor I had slept, but we had no trouble staying awake. The radio kept us updated on rescue efforts in New York. We drove to the water, a beach, and some of the pages lamented their attire: navy blue suits didn’t seem quite appropriate for our location. But there was something strangely fitting about them. It would have been all wrong if we’d had time to gather swimsuits and towels and pack a picnic lunch. Navy blue matched the somber reports from the radio. Navy blue, dark enough to be mourning.

A gull perched on the dock. The girls had stopped crying. A duck tucked his head under his wing and slept in the sun. Parents had been called, a mayor, a governor, a president offered assurances to the American people. And the blessing of food and transportation out of the city finally dawned on me. Praise God.

It’s early morning and my coworkers–that is my friends with whom I work–and I have just returned with 31 tired teenagers. Traffic is horrendous, and Joseph and I had to battle our way back to the Senate garage to return the vans we absconded with yesterday. Thirty-one teenagers amble off to prepare themselves for another day on the Senate floor. Thirty-one sets of parents will be able to rest tonight–the children they entrusted us with have been safely returned.

People are still finding out if their loved ones were killed. Many thousands of sets of parents, of families, of children will have no rest of consulation tonight. We all are still wondering why. Why death? Why suffering? There is something about our deepest parts that ache at these things because we know, somehow we just know, that this is not how it’s supposed to be. And yet, we have a God who died, we have a God who suffered–not because death and suffering are good, but to pass through them. As so, we will pass through this. Praise God who is Emmanuel, God with Us. He was with us on the beach in Maryland, with us in the dust and ash as we searched for our loved ones, with us as we said our last prayers as our planes were crashing, with us in the Midwest waiting for a phone call, with us in the Middle East where terrorism doesn’t make big news. With us always and everywhere to the ends of the Earth.

Pray hard, my dear ones. Do exactly what it is you do, right where you are, for the glory of God. And pray, and never forget that is your source. The well of your soul alone could never be deep enough, and it doesn’t have to be. And if there was ever anything left unsaid, let it not be “I love you.”

I love you.

From Julie (Burridge) Haviland to family and friends:

(Editor’s Note: Haviland is a second-year emergency medicine resident at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Toledo, Ohio, and was sent to Ground Zero on Oct. 28, 2001, by the National Disaster Medical Service as part of the ongoing effort to treat the firefighters, police, construction workers and others still working at the site.)

I arrived in NYC on the day of the memorial in which friends and family of the victims were given urns with ash from the WTC. In the hotel lobby, I met a young woman’s father who was handing out pins with her picture and birth date. She was my age. He saw my uniform and started hugging and crying and thanking me. I explained that I had not yet done anything, but he said, “You will.”

The next morning my team arrived at the WTC site. After we passed through the security checkpoints, we saw what the pictures and news can’t portray–10 acres of devastation. Much of the rubble had already been cleared away, but there were still buildings split in half, buildings allowed to burn because 347 of New York’s firefighters has already sacrificed their lives. There were buildings down the block with pieces gouged out of them from the falling towers. After our eyes had their fill, we got down to business. When I arrived, there were only two clinics; initially there were six.

Much of my work down at the “pile”–the term the veterans of the WTC disaster call the rubble where the twin towers stood–was psychological. We saw our share of respiratory complaints (the sub-basements of the towers are still burning), eye problems (the pile is right next to the Hudson River and the wind really whips up all the debris and ash), and burns, but everyone had a story to tell and they needed to tell it. It was easier to tell a stranger than to tell their spouse or friend, who already has much grief to bear. One of the paramedics told us about his partner, whose wife worked on the 82nd floor of the second tower. After the first plane hit, she called him and told him to stay put and she would make it out. However, he went in after her. She got out; he did not. The stories like that go on and on. Each one as heartbreaking as the last.

The volunteers at the site from the Salvation Army, the Red Cross and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church were wonderful. They have been working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to try to keep people comfortable. They fed us hot meals, gave new boots, socks and rain jackets to whoever needed them. There were massage therapists, chiropractors and podiatrist volunteers doing their trade for free to the workers. There was a group of massage therapists from Toledo, Ohio, who were staying in a homeless shelter so they could afford to be in NYC. St. Paul’s Church was the epitome of what religion should be. They opened their doors to all the rescue workers, let them rest in the pews, relax and fed them hot food. Twenty-four hours a day, there was someone singing or playing the harp, piano or guitar. In addition, they continued to have services at noon every day. I have truly never felt closer to God or my community than I did while eating homemade lentil soup while listening to a classical guitarist play “Amazing Grace.”

It was an honor to serve those workers who are still trying to find their brothers in the pile. The people of New York have really come together after this tragedy and have been able to do some wonderful works of philanthropy and humanitarianism. I am truly grateful for this experience.

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