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The Chaplain's Tale
Family: Wife and three children
Occupation: Adjunct instructor at Sullivan County Community College and former
Marvel comics artist
As an Episcopalian deacon, he worked as a chaplain at Ground Zero for the American
The day it happened, as everybody well
knows by now, there was a wonderful, beautiful cloudless sky.
Linda, my wife, and I were just eating breakfast in our house
in Kerhonkson, which is probably two, two-and-a-half hours from
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We gave up cable television a long time ago – we watch
hundreds of tapes – but she does have a little black-and-white
Panasonic in the kitchen with about a six-inch screen and we
get Connecticut television, from Hartford, I think, on that
TV, very snowy, almost unrecognizable.
I went outside to get the paper and came back in. Linda said,
“An airplane just hit the World Trade Center tower.”
And I think my response was, “An airplane? On a day like
today? That’s impossible.” And I said, “Was it
a light plane?” She said, “No, I don’t know.
I really can’t tell.”
After a bit, it was established that it was obviously a larger
airplane, a commercial-size airplane. I just felt that this
was an incredible mistake. I couldn’t believe it.
I called my neighbors. They’re very close and they have
TV. I said, “Are you guys watching this on television?”
And they said, “Yeah.” I said, “We don’t
have cable.” So they said come on over.
Linda was on her way to work and she left and I went over and
watched the rest of the morning basically from their house as
these events took place. I knew as a nation, even though as
I speak things drift into the background a bit, but I realized
on that day because I had always been into history to some degree,
I knew that this was an event that was probably the most destructive
occurrence that ever happened inside the borders of the United
As many people did, I lived in the city, a while back when we
first got married, but I felt like I really needed to be there.
I wasn’t of a mind to grab a shovel like some people did
and just drive to the city, but, you know, in some capacity
that would be useful over the long haul. That came about through
the Episcopal Church toward the end of September, the first
part of October. Oct. 10 was the first day I went down.
that time, we had a very loose chaplaincy that was occurring
through the Episcopal Church with any members of the clergy
that would want to go there. It was found that to have clergy
on site was very valuable to the people that were there, to
the people that were working.
I’m not a priest. I’m not a minister. I’m not
a pastor of a church. But I am a deacon in the Episcopal Church,
and as in the Catholic Church, it’s an ordained position.
I thought that would probably be a good point of entry. And
sure enough, the Episcopal Diocese of New York was very involved
from Day One because St. Paul’s Chapel is one block over
on Broadway. I came to know that quite well and the people there
The chapel was a respite center. There were several respite
centers. Some were shut down mid-winter, late winter. But that
was one that stayed open until the end as was the Salvation
Army respite center over on West Street.
The first trips down were kind of loosely assembled, but gradually
what we would be doing was work in pairs. Somebody broke me
in and I then took somebody else in eventually. And that somebody
was an Episcopal priest, who wound up being the liaison and
the director for Red Cross Pastoral Services on the site. He,
working with the Red Cross, developed a chaplaincy that functioned
primarily at the temporary morgue on site.
There were other chaplaincies there. There was a wide variety
of chaplaincies and
religions and faiths that were represented on the site. The
Salvation Army had chaplains there. The local Catholic parishes
had chaplains there, priests. In fact, when I was first introduced
to that environment, the morgue, there were Catholic chaplains,
priests that had taken that ministry as something that was an
absolute necessity. They saw a need and began to fill it right
from the get-go, as the Red Cross became involved. As many other
organizations came online and became involved, things got a
little more organized.
This chaplaincy that I was involved in was composed of representatives
from all the major faiths. I really don’t know how many
faiths might have been represented, but the major ones were.
We had rabbis, at least one Muslim, an imam, we had Protestants,
there were Catholic priests, there were deacons like myself.
There was a wide variety of individuals that functioned in teamwork.
Probably the numbers ran between 40 and 60 total.
Not everybody could make it as regularly as I could, especially
people who were involved in parish life. I happened to be not
working and so I was going down once a week on average. The
first day I went down, I went with another deacon who had actually
been going into the site since the first or second day because
he lived in Manhattan.
What they were requiring then when they found remains was the
first clergy person that
they saw, they’d ask them to come and escort the remains
out of the site, say blessings, say a prayer and escort the
remains to the morgue. That was the basic idea.
Another function that they had was talking to people. Sometimes
there was a need. Workers generally didn’t want to be approached.
I know there was a little bit of a problem in the beginning
with the evangelical groups who were a little too much with
the sales pitch. That really wasn’t appreciated because
that’s not where the focus was.
The workers really did, for the most part, appreciate having
somebody there that they could just walk over and talk to if
they needed to. About anything. It might not be any problem
they might be having with the job they were doing because very
few people ever admitted to that. I never heard anybody actually
talk about the difficulty of the job or how much strain it was
putting on them. Their response in that sense was more like
a combat soldier, you know, I’m here; I’m doing the
job; I’m not going to think about it until it’s over.
That was basically the attitude I ran into.
The first thing I noticed when I got off the subway at Fulton
and Broadway, the A train, and probably up through Christmas,
was the smell of debris and smoke and crushed steel and burning
metal that was trapped in the subway stations. In fact, I would
say the odor was greater there than it was actually out on the
street a few blocks away. It would lie there like a mist almost.
You couldn’t see it, but you could smell it. The minute
I got off the train, I smelled it.
It’s a very common smell, really, if you’ve been around
a house that’s being torn apart, plaster, wood, metal,
plastic, all this kind of stuff. That was in the air. And I
think that was the kind of material that you were so concerned
about as far as the toxic nature of what they were breathing.
I came out of the subway. I might have checked in at St. Paul’s
Chapel, I don’t remember, but anyway I walked across at
that point to the cemetery in back of St. Paul’s. The streets
were actually initially cleaned up by the sanitation people.
When I talked to a couple of sanitation people, they were sort
of stoic but bemoaning the fact that they really didn’t
get any credit for their involvement. There were certain agencies
that got a lot of credit and a lot of PR but there were people
like sanitation who didn’t. And they were there originally
cleaning. If you saw pictures of Broadway even in those first
couple of days, it was a shambles.
And so there’s a cemetery that goes between Broadway. It’s
in the back of St. Paul’s, which is on Broadway and Fulton,
and in back of the cemetery, it stretches over Church Street,
on which the eastern border of the Plaza runs.
That cemetery was still filled with one or two inches of ash.
It was covered, the ground, the stones, the leaves in the trees.
It was an ungated cemetery and in the trees, there was still
debris that had fallen from the sky, shredded paper from paper
machines, office drapery, articles of clothing, bits and pieces
of you name it, Venetian blinds, things of that nature.
At that point, as you walked toward church, you were looking
dead straight into Building No. 5. One of the few things that
people don’t really understand about this or can’t
really imagine is that there’s seven buildings in the Plaza.
There were actually six in the immediate Plaza area and Building
7, which was on the other side of Betsy Street sandwiched between
Every one of those buildings was destroyed. Besides peripheral
buildings being severely damaged, but these buildings, the six
in the Plaza itself, the two towers came down, but the other
three major buildings, the U.S. Customs House, Building 4 and
5, which were two massive office buildings running along Church
Street, totally twisted and gutted.
They were demolished. They were completely demolished. They
caught on fire and they burned. The building that collapsed
later in the day amazingly enough was between two buildings
on the other side of Betsy Street on the north end of the Plaza.
Those two buildings had superficial damage, but somehow that
building that housed the Office of Emergency Management, OEM
amazingly enough, came down. So every building in the area was
When I was there, of course, the remnants of the towers were
still standing. It looked like an enormous junkyard. A scrap
metal yard, very similar to that. Except this was still burning.
There was still fire. On the cold days, even in January, there
was a noticeable difference between the temperature in the middle
of the site than there was when you walked two blocks over on
Broadway. You could actually feel the heat.
It took me a long time to realize it and I found myself actually
one day wanting to get back. Why? Because I felt more comfortable.
I realized it was actually warmer on site. The fires burned,
up to 2,000 degrees, underground for quite a while before they
actually got down to those areas and they cooled off.
I talked to many contractors and they said they actually saw
molten metal trapped, beams had just totally had been melted
because of the heat. So this was the kind of heat that was going
on when those airplanes hit the upper floors. It was just demolishing
The guy who brought us in, the other deacon, it was me and an
Episcopal priest, a woman, and he just kind of gave a tour,
showed us where to get respiratory masks, where we could get
hard hats, where the food was, where the rest areas were. It
really was kind of an enormous, conveniently self-sufficient
community in a sense. You could actually have lived there. You
could stay there and have all your needs met. By that time,
everything that was needed for human existence was there.
In a way, the community, the environment itself was very complete.
There were medical facilities and so on. Everything was there,
set against this really bizarre and surreal background, which
is kind of ironic because we try to create perfect backgrounds
and you can’t seem to do it, but suddenly you have this
horrible distortion of what you consider reality and you find
everybody’s working together and everybody’s talking
to one another and everybody’s smiling and being polite.
It was probably a month before I heard the F-word. It was an
amazing place and that was part of the draw actually, this focused
sense of accomplishment.
Really what you were doing was people were trying to find anything
that was left that had to do with human, with the human condition
or busted remains and stuff. The job itself when you think about
it, you would think a job like that would be productive in a
sense, as far as advancing the human cause. Somehow they called
it a clean-up, but it was more than a clean-up. From the minute,
I think from the second it happened, there was a building going
on, a building process that was occurring. I think people had
a sense of that.
The morgue where I worked, eventually we had a choice. We could
work in respite centers or we could work the temporary morgue.
There were two morgues. There was a temporary morgue on site
and the purpose of that was primarily to establish general identification.
Was it a member of the uniformed service, like a policeman or
a fireman or was it a civilian. Usually the workers were referred
to as civilians. Sometimes there was ID and sometimes there
wasn’t, I mean physical ID like wallets and things like
that, jewelry, this type of thing. But that was the basic idea
there. What do we have and who does it belong to.
Then the remains were sent up to Bellevue and that’s where
all of the serious work was going on, all the DNA work, the
cold storage, what might appear to be gruesome in nature but
I just felt there was a light shining on every one of us. I
really did. It was a wonderful experience.
And I got to work with a lot of other unsung heroes, mainly
members of EMS, EMTs, and I heard a lot of stories about their
lives and about the job they do outside of this particular event.
And I tell you, the stuff that they run into is just as hazardous,
dangerous and in many ways ever more so than some of the other
jobs that are done.
I mean, especially in some of the parts of the city, they have
a very, very tough time of it, you know. They can be called
to a medical call and by the time they get there, the medical
call has been a result of a crime and the crime is still in
progress and there are still people with knives, people with
guns. It’s just this kind of thing. They get there before
the cops; what do you do?
Yeah, I heard some really great stories from some of these folks.
They and the medical examiner. The medical examiners –
men, women, all shapes, sizes and colors – and the EMTs
were absolutely just the most encouraging and uplifting group
of people I’ve ever hung around. They were great. The medical
examiners in particular, they have a great job. The job that
they just do routinely is absolutely incredible.
We began actually the process – and this is why I liked
the temporary morgue more as opposed to, say, a respite center
where you’re counseling or talking to families and things
like that, is that it was the beginning of the process where
you’re bringing – and I don’t want to use the
word closure because, frankly, I don’t believe in it; I
really don’t think there’s closure in the sense that
some people would think there is, which is to say having done
with the thing.
No. These kinds of things are never done with. It becomes a
part of your life and you just kind of have to decide whether
it’s going to become a positive thing or a negative thing.
But closure? Heck, no.
The function of the medical examiner and the team that was in
there – New York City detectives, your photographer, you’ve
got the Port Authority cops – you’ve got all the representation
there keeping good records of what’s going on in the morgue.
This is the beginning of the process where you’re assembling
something that you can say to the families and friends of these
people that were lost: “Yes, we have who you are looking
for. We have them.”
I gained a tremendous appreciation of how important that is,
for people to have remains returned. No matter how small. No
matter how little. Something with meaning. I had no sensitivity
to that really at all, that notion, because you think in terms
of yourself. If you were lost, you’d say, “Forget
it. Don’t bother.”
But for people who are survivors, it’s of paramount importance.
So I gained a tremendous sensitivity about how important that
was to return remains to loved ones of these people who are
And that’s basically what we did at the morgue. And the
chaplain’s purpose primarily was to, frequently you’d
be called into the hole or on the pile, depending on what month
it was, and we would escort remains out of the site and into
the morgue, which was usually right on the edge of the area.
It changed locations two or three times, but it was always right
there, close enough to travel to and from. One temporary morgue
was right inside Church Street. It was overlooking the hole.
So chaplains would frequently be called into the site. There
would be some prayers and blessings, usually with the remains
on the site and then escorted to the morgue. The medical examiner
would be called in. They usually had quarters that were right
next door. They would come in and the photographers would be
called in. They looked at what they had and then filled in some
paperwork and then the chaplain would say a few words at that
What blessings over remains? I can’t even remember. One
time I was there, I mean, there were many, many, many, many
times. The uniformed service people coming out under flags,
you know, like you see on TV, and up the ramp and under a flag
and escort. I had a day where I had eight of those. And another
day with five. And this wasn’t counting civilians. Civilians
was another whole story.
The fire department and the police department, they chose to
formally escort the remains out. The primary purpose of the
chaplain was in the morgue and everybody was dealt with equally
in there. Firefighters, as uniformed service people, they more
or less treated their own, or the police, as if they were military.
In other words, not everybody gets buried with a flag out in
the real world, but military does. So that’s kind of like
the contrast that existed there.
Frankly, I didn’t see anything wrong with it, as long as
the proper respect was, but the morgue really represented the
beginning of the burial process. It was the beginning, it was
a place that was respectful, that was important to the survivors,
families and friends. At that point, when these remains were
being clinically examined, there was a point of respect that
began there, which was carried through until a family burial
could take place.
So it was a real important thing and it was an eye-opener for
me, like I say, on many levels. If this sounds bad, don’t
put it in. But I basically enjoyed it. I enjoyed it immensely.
I made a lot of friends, people from all over the country. I
dare say the first weeks I was there there were probably more
non-New Yorkers working there than there were New Yorkers. There
were fire departments from Phoenix and Washington State and
Texas and police officers from New Mexico and Idaho. It was
just filled with people working there from all over the place,
civilian volunteers from Oregon working at OSHA where there
were handing out Band-Aids and helmets and masks and stuff,
gloves. It was just incredible.
And the Salvation Army was a huge presence there. They had this
huge inflated bubble, the kind of thing that you usually play
tennis under. They had an enormous one over on the West End,
the west side, the northwest corner and they served meals round
the clock. As did St. Paul’s on Broadway serve meals around
the clock, straight through. So the efforts were pretty colossal.
I mean it was just magnificent.
And then there was the spectacle of it. Being an artist, there
was a certain eye that was always out. I didn’t sit down
and actually sketch from life because it didn’t seem appropriate,
but I did later on at home, I did drawings from memory. Just
little drawings, things that struck me. People, the scene on
the ramp, that kind of thing. The hardware. The firefighters
working. The contractors. These machines. These visages.
I remember in the first few months, the north and south towers
were still two adjacent walls still standing and what was holding
those walls up was just incredible mountains of debris. You’d
have these huge grapplers, kind of like a steam shovel with
a big grappling jaw on the front of it, and there would be like
a half-dozen of them on this mountain of debris. It was prehistoric.
And then to see smoke rising from the fires underneath, especially
at night when it was dead light and they got the floodlights
on. And I worked a couple of night shifts, overnight, and when
the Kleeg lights were on, if you stayed outside, the sleep mechanism
never kicked in because it was like daylight all day long and
there was this bustling activity all night long.
These grapplers would be up there and they’d just uproot
stuff and pass on to another one and that would pass it down
to another one and then they’d drop it down at the base.
Another thing that people probably don’t realize is that
every single pound, every ounce of that debris was gone over
by hand on site. When the heavy metal was lifted out and it
would leave this immense pile of smaller of debris and dirt
and crushed stone and stuff like that.
Then the firefighters would rake it, rake and shovel. They’d
be in there with little garden things. They’d be raking
and shoveling. Every inch of that stuff was raked and examined
by firefighters looking for remains. That’s how they found
what they found. They found stuff so small I couldn’t believe
they uncovered it. It was like literally as if you were out
in the garden, that kind of fine tuning. And then, of course,
everything eventually went over to Freshkill in Staten Island,
and they had a conveyor process over there where they were just
examining every single thing they could get their hands on even
more thoroughly. They pretty regularly found remains over there.
There were days when there were like 17 separate blessings of
remains, just on one shift. The day when I had eight MOSes come
out, member of service, under flags, that shift prior to mine
had something like nine or 11. It was one of those days when
they were getting into the lobby of one of the towers, the north
tower I think it was at the time. In that tower the lobby was
like five floors down, you know, everything was compressed.
I saw a PATH train down there compressed under, it was like
a geological demonstration almost. You would see a wall of exposed
debris and it would be layered, but it was compressed. You couldn’t
really identify anything.
We came down there in a Gator one day, you know, one of those
six-wheel buggies, and he says, “Look over there.”
I looked and here’s this curved piece of aluminum sticking
out around the bottom that had “PATH” on it in blue
letters, the PATH emblem. Then if you looked real close you
could see the rail sticking out here and there, twisted pieces
And then the truck assembly, the wheel assembly – the railroad
car is called the truck assembly – that was the only part
that wasn’t like totally crushed. You could see the wheels.
Now that’s all cleared and there’s three separate
lines there. The tracks were totally exposed and cleared, and
they look pretty much undamaged except in places where there’s
a rail missing.
It was amazing; even if it was cleaned out, it was amazing.
This huge hole, six floors deep that was the basic foundation
of the incredible complex. I mean, the mechanics of it, again
being an artist, it was just a wonderment and luckily a lot
of people were able to document it.
But some people would say to me it must have been horrible being
there. And I said, “It’s the human element. The human
relationships the way they were, the way they developed, the
way people cooperated and worked together, it was a big draw.
It was a very big draw.”
It was pretty much a team effort. Now, I know nobody would rent
it, but I would build the tallest building in the world there.
It would be like the largest middle finger in the world I’d
construct there. Nobody would rent it out but somebody suggested
you could do a pretty tall building and then just put a towel
over the top.
Obviously the most expensive real estate in the galaxy is in
lower Manhattan so something is going to be built on it. I was
talking to this elderly woman I met in the chapel because she
said she did the same thing I do. I said I kind of work things
through. I draw. I do sketches of what I think should go here
when it’s finished. She said, “I do the same thing.”
“Yeah, what do you got?”
So she explained her ideas and I explained mine. But my idea
was a compromise where you could actually have that whole area
a park, a memorial and still have a building on it. And the
building would be constructed like the Eiffel Tower. It’s
corner-posted and then you would have a structure above that.
But underneath is all open. It would be an incredible park and
You can’t get away from the fact. I’ve been to many
Civil War battlefields. It is a burial ground. There are 2,800
people lost and they’ve identified a little over 1,000.
And even if they identify another 1,000, there’s still
going to be 800 people missing. There’s going to be a lot
of people missing that they will not find. They will not find
them. And so, just like a national war memorial, it has that
kind of sanctity to it, whether you want it to or not, it’s
going to have it.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a battlefield.
I’ve been to battlefields that I have had knowledge of
the battles, human interest in that type of history. Some people
say there are ghosts there. And I say no. My feeling at Gettysburg,
in Shiloh, some of these other places, was that’s where
the ghosts are. That there are permanent residents there. It’s
palpable. There are permanent residents in those places and
we are the ones that drift through like spirits, the tourists,
in and out, in and out, in and out.
And that’s going to be like that. I don’t care what
they do it. It doesn’t almost matter. It’s going to
be a special place.There’s a kid drawing that I saw. I
don’t know if I saw it in the paper or one of the kids
up in Eldred where I taught, but they had the smoking World
Trade Center towers and then there were just thousands of angels
pouring out of the top of these buildings skyward, toward the
sun, which was such an uplifting and encouraging drawing, to
see that. And also, to us, things are lost. But in the larger
sense, nobody’s lost. If you believe in God, God knows
where you are. Right? So nobody’s really lost and that
picture to me really capsulized what that place represents.
It represents where there’s a lot of strong spiritual substance.
It will always be that way.
That will be what it is now for a long, long time. That’s
a lot of energy. A lot of people died there. And a lot of people
worked there. And a lot of people put their lives into it, so
it’s a very powerful location. There’s very few places
except battlefields that generate something. In fact, My brother
and I, went to Antietam one day and we were saying that in a
place where so much violence and bloodshed has occurred, it’s
now ironic that battlefields tend to be one of the safest and
quietest and most peaceful places on Earth, which is really
So maybe that’s what needs to happen. The whole Earth needs
to become a battlefield first, until every inch of the ground
has been covered with somebody’s blood and work and labor.
We’re getting there. We’re working on it.
We somehow have to learn to live like we lived there communally
without having the chaos and destruction and carnage. Enlightenment
is bypassing all of that, is realizing what we are without having
to go through it and what we’re capable of. I mean, we’re
really capable of some amazing things, on the plus side.
Being there kind of restored my faith in the human condition,
to some degree. “Hey, we can do this.” All we gotta
do is not have to depend on this kind of thing to have to get
there. If we could only figure out another way to get there.
That would be really excellent. That would be really cool.
I didn’t know anybody who died there, but I know two people
who worked there and got out. But I talked to a lot of people
who lost people there or who were there. There was one young
EMT, 25 years old. He just arrived after the second plane hit
and he was down on the south end of this thing and they were
trying to find the best place to set up to assist people. There’s
an overpass on the lower end of West Street where Liberty comes
in, the overpass that comes over into the Holiday Inn. They
were under that.
And he said I think we ought to get out of here because nobody’s
going to see us here. We should move up West Street. And just
about that time, they heard this incredible noise, a sort of
low rumbling start to build. And they look up and here it comes.
It’s coming down. As he says, “I just stood there.
I couldn’t move.” So his buddy grabbed him and they
got behind a vehicle. They were half under it and half behind
it and this thing came down right across the street. And so
then they moved up to the other end and they were up at the
other end when the north tower came down. At that point, they
ran into a building on the other side of the street next to
Winter Garden, one of those buildings over there.
He’s telling all the other guys on shifts about this. There
were eight EMTs. The EMTs, usually the ones that were in the
morgue, pulled shift in the morgue, they were from different
stations. They didn’t work together. He said, “It
didn’t bother me. It didn’t seem to, I don’t
have any dreams.” He said it was a powerful experience
but “I haven’t had any problems with it.”
But, on the other hand, I talked to people who were there on
that day and couldn’t go back. A million circumstances.
Ironically, that was the first day that he’d been back
since it happened and it was six months later. His boss didn’t
really want him to go back so he didn’t. But some people
came back and stayed and some people said I don’t think
I can deal with it. There were some people, when they built
the observation ramp, couldn’t go on the ramp.
It was an honor and a privilege to be there. I spent a year
in Vietnam and I was four years in the Air Force back in the
’60s. I made those kind of connections, where you promise
a lot but you never see them again. You want to but everybody
gets caught up in their own lives and will probably never touch
But I do have addresses and I sent people some things already.
I’ve sent photos that I’ve taken. And then I did something,
being the artist that I am, I designed an EMS patch that’s
strictly EMS. It’s got EMS in big white letters on it.
I had a limited run made and I gave them to EMS people I knew.
And they flipped. They flipped.
The only thing, I can’t get involved in any money on this
because of my position. But you can have the artwork and have
the patches made if you want to because one guy said, “I
can sell these.” So I mailed the artwork to him and he’s
having some patches made up. I hope he does well with them.
Idon’t want to see him lose a lot of money.
It has FDNY, but in little letters, FDNY on either side. It’s
kind of neat. And it also has silhouettes on it. EMS with the
orange helmets, specifically a New York Fire Department EMS
The experience of escorting remains, you know, I talk about
it now sort of matter-of-factly, and my mind, frankly, is either
purposely or due to my age has gotten really fuzzy on a lot
of the initial impact of some of the things that I experienced
there. But I was privileged at the time to actually to have
been there when one of the two fire department EMTs was recovered
from the pit, from the hole, and it being a uniformed service
person or MOS, this individual was escorted up a ramp out of
Now, the ramp, they had one single huge ramp that went down
in to the hole and it changed locations on a number of occasions
depending on where they were working and where the ramp had
to be for easy accessibility. The ramp was built on top of debris.
This ramp was pretty much built on top of debris of the south
tower. It was built in that vicinity. There were millions and
billions of square tons of topsoil which were brought in and
laid down so that there was a surface that the vehicles and
the people could work on. This was another process that we don’t
hear about all that much – this incredible shifting and
changing and constructing and manipulating the environment so
that it could be worked in very easily.
The first time I was on the ramp to recover remains, it was
probably one of the most overpowering experiences I have ever
had. The call usually came in from a chief in the site and he’d
say, “We need a Gator, we need an EMS crew and we need
a chaplain down here.” That indicated that they had found
You’d jump on the Gator with the EMTs and kind of rumble
over this rough ground and around trucks and past workers and
through puddles and descend this ramp into this enormous 16-acre
hole that they were in the process of recovering. Being in the
center of the site, you were just surrounded by mountains of
debris, deconstruction, people intensely involved in recovery
work, machines. You really had to have eyes in the back of your
head because machines would wheel tires that were like 12-feet
in diameter. Moving around. Backing up. Shovel swinging. Grapplers
moving around. You really had to watch it. It was very noisy.
They’d take you over to where the remains were found. Usually
the remains would be on a stretcher like device called a Stokes
basket and the remains were in a plastic bag usually and covered
with a flag. From that point on, you would process with usually
the remains placed in the back of the Gator and you could ride
with the gator or you would process in the front of the Gator
with the chief and with firefighters or other workers on either
side of the Gator. That would process to the base of the ramp.
At that point, a call had been made and all work ceases in the
Everybody stops. And the ramp is lined on either side with workers:
firefighters, construction workers, police, you name it. It
was like, as I thought about it at that time, it was biblical
in nature. It was something like out of the Old Testament. There
was this great earthen ramp, this incredible process, people
standing in line waiting, waiting for this entourage to pass.
At one point, another chief on the ramp as we processed up would
call attention, uncover. And everybody would take their hats
off and come to attention and salute.
In the middle of the ramp we’d stop and the chaplain would
turn around with the chief and the firefighters would approach
you with the remains on this pallet until they were close enough
to be within earshot. At that point, there were preliminary
prayers and blessings were said over the remains.
Especially at night. Because I primarily worked the 4-to-midnight
shift, this occurred in the dark with the lights on. You’re
alone in the middle of the ramp basically standing next to this
chief and you’re kind of looking around and you’ve
got these guys who have given their sweat, guts and blood on
this thing on a daily basis, lining this ramp and I’m kind
of going, I’m looking around for some authority. Wait,
I need help. This kind of thing. It was just an overpowering
And these guys would come up and look you in the eye and they’d
say, “Where do you want us to stand.” And I’d
say, “That’s good. That’s good right there.”
And then I’d flip open to my prayer book. I used the “Book
of Common Prayer,” which is the Episcopal prayer book,
but I had ecumenical prayers in there also. I had some prayers
in there for Jewish rites of dead and I had some Islamic prayers
in there also, in case you actually you knew what faith they
had belonged to.
We said the prayers and then we continued processing up to the
ambulance. The emergency vehicle would be at the top with the
doors open. The guys would still be standing there saluting.
I found it very moving for me particularly, just falling behind
the procession at that point. And I would open to the 23rd Psalm,
which talks about the valley in the shadow of death, and I would
just say that to myself behind the remains coming out. This
5,000-year-old poem had the relevance it had to this situation
was just so incredible that the mind would just become blank.
There was no thought process at that time. You were operating
totally out of the right side of the brain, totally intuitive,
creative side of the brain. It was just impressions and sounds
and movement. That’s all there is.
There’s no analyzing. There’s no looking. There’s
no observing. There’s no nothing of that nature.
Then we’d load up into the back of the ambulance and run
it over to the temporary morgue, which was a couple blocks over
on the other side of the site. In the morgue, the examination
process would be completed with a final prayer before the remains
were sent to Bellevue morgue.
© 2002 Orange County Publications,
a division of Ottaway
Newspapers Inc., all rights reserved. An abridged version
of this transcript appeared in the Sept. 8, 2002, editions of
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