Editors’ Note: Salvation Army Captain Robert Webster worked many intense hours at the ground zero site in New York City, ministering and counseling to disaster relief workers in the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy. He has graciously agreed to share his remembrances with country.com. Here are excerpts from his daily journal. To read the entire journal, click here.
Returned to Ground Zero. Again went to assist emergency personnel with fluids – hot coffee, hot chocolate – hot tea, water and Gatorade. We travel through the site on a John Deere 4×6, which makes it possible to move very close to the ironworkers and firefighters removing debris. I find that being right there with the men and women is where our ability to counsel is most effective. When the workers take a break they look to vent. Most are very quiet at first, but after drinking and reflecting what is happening, they begin to tell you their story, where they were – what they were doing how they escaped. They don’t know why this happened – so many innocent people gone in an instant, and now a constant reminder of this terrorist attack right in front of their face.
I was serving hot chocolate to the FDNY Chief and he asked that I not leave, as I will soon be needed to assist his firefighters with the recovery of two of his fallen firefighters. I stood by and asked my fellow Chaplains for their support and to stand by if additional help was necessary. The time came when the chief asked me to follow him to the hill – the tall pile of rubble – where the two fallen firefighters were found. I was given the American Flag, by the Deputy Chief to cover the bodies of the firefighters. When asked I proceeded to the top of the hill assisted to the location, by the extended hands of the firefighters who asked me to join them during this time of need. After the members were placed in a black bag and moved to a stokes basket I covered the firefighters with the flag. I was then asked to lead the team in prayer to pray for the families of the fallen heros and their fellow firefighters. An honor I will never forget. The firefighters removed their helmets and stood at attention around their comrades as I led them in prayer. At the completion of praying the men and women saluted their friends bodies and proceeded to line up down the hill at attention handing the stokes basket to one another. I reflected briefly on this moment and my heart was heavy, yet joyful knowing I was able to assist in some small way with this unspeakable recovery effort.