The Chaplain's Tale
Featuring the unabridged transcript and audio.

Herb Trimpe
Age: 63
Hometown: Kerhonksen
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 Red Cross.







IN THEIR OWN VOICES






 
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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 Manhattan.

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 States.

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.

At 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 quite well.

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 two buildings.

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 destroyed.

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 heat.

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 lost.

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 point.

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 of rail.

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 memorial.

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 amazing.

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 base again.

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 patch.

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 the pit.

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 someone.

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 hole.

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 thing.

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 the Times Herald-Record. *The Times Herald-Record is not affiliated with RealNetworks and is not responsible for any difficulties involved with using its product. Please refer all technical support questions about the player to RealNetworks. Click here to see the system requirements for the RealOne Player.