In recognition of the 15–year anniversary of the events of 9/11, four Eastern Territory officers share their memories of how the attacks profoundly influenced, and in some cases changed, the course of their lives. Their stories remind us how The Salvation Army was there—in New York City; in Shanksville, Pa., and at the Pentagon. Most of all, these accounts remind us that, even in the most difficult of times, God is still present and working powerfully in our lives.
Major Phil Lloyd
The Salvation Army had been at Ground Zero for 24 hours when I arrived in New York on the afternoon of September 12th. I had just returned from vacation with my family at Myrtle Beach.
I was told to go to Ground Zero and check on our canteens (mobile food and supply units), and try to make sense of the chaos. Major Jim Betts was with me. There was a constant stream of supplies coming in, but we were lacking the kind of order needed to optimize our efforts.
Divisional Headquarters on 14th Street had become a giant storage bin for everything from food for search & rescue dogs to supplies for administering first aid to injured civilians and exhausted workers. By Sunday, I had completely lost track of time. We worked 30 hours straight, slept for a bit, and then continued.
For a long time, looking at the destruction at Ground Zero was difficult to do. Workers pulled squashed fire trucks from under the collapsed towers. Firemen knelt and gently placed their hands on the destroyed vehicles. Out of respect for their fallen comrades, the men made this hallowed ground. Despite the temptation to stare, I carefully looked away, rather than gaze at the destruction, or at their mourning.
In the midst of pain and loss, there was a strong sense of unity among everyone. There was certainly patriotism, but we also became a sharing community. If someone needed a shovel, he just picked it up where he saw it, went to work, and returned it when he was done.
We provided a ministry of presence. I was at a loss for words when workers came down from “The Pile” of debris, ashes, and human remains. So I just grieved along with them. I learned that by just being there, sitting next to them, and making sure they were never alone, was a service in itself.
Rather than talk about the job we were doing, we instead talked about family. I shared chocolates with them that we had received as donations. Those snacks were 10–second bits of enjoyment in the midst of this horrible situation.
For years, people would ask me to talk about 9/11. I always told them that, despite being witnesses to one of the most horrible crimes, we were also blessed by an outpouring of love and giving. Whether a person was from The Salvation Army, the Catholic Church, the Red Cross, or any other organization, we all worked together. Out of the worst of humanity came the best of humanity.
Major Phil Lloyd is the Territorial Youth Secretary in West Nyack, N.Y.
During the events of 9/11, he served as corps officer in White Plains, N.Y.
Major A. Kenneth Wilson
I was 260 miles from New York City when someone told me that the first plane hit the World Trade Center. I rushed to the nearest television in my office at the Salvation Army’s National Headquarters (NHQ) in Alexandria, Va. In my previous appointment in Kearny, N.J., I was close enough to the city to see the towers from my neighborhood. The peaceful image was shattered that Tuesday when I turned on the TV in time to see the second plane hit. And that was no accident.
Within minutes, I heard unconfirmed reports of explosions in and around Washington, D.C. From the top floor of NHQ, I could see smoke coming from the direction of the Pentagon. Overhead, fighter jets were going supersonic. The “boom” rattled all the windows in the neighborhood.
I later learned that terrorists had hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 with the intention of crashing it into the White House or the Capitol. But the plane actually dove into the Pentagon, slicing its way through five sections of the massive fortress–like office building.
The Salvation Army, being long accustomed to participating in emergency response efforts, arrived within minutes. Workers set up a mobile feeding truck in the restricted area and began serving first responders.
My daughter, a student at Northern Virginia Community College, took three hours to get home that day. Normally, it would have taken her only 30 minutes.
In the following days, territorial service directors who had been at NHQ for a conference were allowed to enter the crash site’s general area. Other officers and volunteers were allowed access to the parking, feeding, counseling, and rest areas.
One night, I went to pick up pizza for responders and officers. I wore a full Salvation Army uniform and was careful to carry proper identification with me. Of course, I also carried my camera around my neck. What happened next caught me by complete surprise.
A rather intimidating FBI employee stopped me and demanded the film from the camera. He confiscated it and said, “We don’t want any pictures taken of this area.” Relieved that I had only lost a few pictures and not the camera itself, I reminded myself that I already had photos on other rolls.
That same night, a soldier also asked to see my camera. He calmly inspected it to ensure it was empty, and then he returned it to me. He said, “Outstanding. Have a good evening. By the way, we’re glad you’re here.”
Days later, I was visiting Bellevue Hospital in New York. Affixed to the walls of the hospital and in surrounding neighborhoods were thousands of fliers bearing personal photos of missing people. The headlines read, “Have you seen…?” The pleas for help indicated the extent of this horrific loss of life.
I thought, should I sit down and cry for the lost? Or should I stand up and cheer the men and women who are working tirelessly at Ground Zero, treating the wounded and consoling the frightened?
Under a makeshift tent next to Bellevue, I found several Salvation Army officer friends conducting a prayer service. Weary workers and people seeking information about lost loved ones sat on hastily constructed chapel furniture. Parked by the tent were trucks draped under American flags, ready to transport human remains.
I salute the officers and volunteers from the National Capital & Virginia Division, the Greater New York Division, and the Western Pennsylvania Division. They made a difference to grieving people and to others charged with recovering the dead. The Salvation Army’s shield and uniform were once again symbols of service during a disaster that changed lives forever.
Major Wilson served as assistant editor–in–chief of the War Cry magazine
in Alexandria, Va. during the events of 9/11.
MAJOR CLARANNE MEITROTT
During the events of 9/11, passengers on American Airlines Flight 93 took control of the hijacked plane and successfully diverted it from the terrorists’ intended path to Washington, D.C. As the struggle onboard ensued, the plane crashed in Shanksville, Pa.
The Salvation Army’s role began with prayer and a telethon to help raise money for the families of these heroic souls. Working through a local radio station, which the Army had partnered with in the past, Salvationists reached out to the community and took donations via phone. They also consoled frightened people who begged for answers as to what had happened in their community and in the world.
At a Salvation Army–sponsored memorial service held in Shanksville, I participated by distributing Bibles with labels that read, “From The Salvation Army: a gift given in memory of the lives lost on Flight 93.” I got 100 Bibles on short notice. Seeing people take them all brought me great joy.
In the following weeks, I returned to Shanksville many times. When I saw residents and law enforcement officials who had missed the service, they would ask for a Bible. I visited Christian bookstores around the area, searching for that exact Bible. I bought every copy I could find. I hoped that they would serve as a memento of the Army’s presence and of God’s presence, and help people find or renew their faith.
Through the events of 9/11, I found a new calling—helping people realize their resilience during and after disasters. Our territory was receiving information from Booth University College in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. A course on helping people in crisis interested me. Through intensives at Long Point Camp and online and on campus and directed studies, I acquired a Bachelor of Arts degree in Christian Ministries with a Certification in Pastoral Counseling.
God saw my heart and called me to a ministry of helping hurting people, which I continue in retirement.
During the events of 9/11, Major Claranne Meitrott was appointed to
the Divisional Headquarters in Western Pennsylvania. She later served
as the territorial social ministries secretary. She and her husband are
now enjoying retirement in Seaford, Del.
Lt. Colonel Stephen Banfield
On September 11, 2001, I was sitting in a finance council board meeting in our building on 14th Street in New York City. I got a call from the Emergency Disaster Services (EDS). When I was told that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, I thought it had been a Piper Cub that may have flown too close or had gotten caught up in a wind draft.
I went to the southerly windows of the 8th floor. From there, I had an unobstructed view of the towers. To my surprise, I saw a gaping hole in one of the buildings. Black smoke and red flames poured out from its side.
Being a New Yorker by adoption, I knew that on any given day, around 50,000 people were inside the Trade Center, with thousands more in surrounding buildings.
I went to my office and called EDS workers to go to the site.
From my window, I could see nearby construction workers on rooftops. Some were looking in disbelief at the damaged tower. Others buried their faces in their hands and wept.
And then another plane hit the second tower. I knew then that we were under a vicious attack.
Since the events of 9/11, the people of New York and the entire nation feel vulnerable. Now, we constantly look over our shoulders, especially when similar attacks, though smaller in scale, happen today.
But as Christians, we must continue to have faith and trust in God. This world still belongs to Him. On 9/11, I watched a helicopter that had been hovering around the towers suddenly pull away. A few seconds later, the second tower began crashing down.
Surprisingly at that moment, two verses came to me. The first was from a hymn: “This is my Father’s world, and let me never forget, although the wrong seems often strong, God is the ruler yet.” The second was Scripture from 1 John 4:4: “Greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world.”
We need to remember that through everything, God is still in control.
The world of our attackers came to a hopeless end. But as followers of Christ, we will continue to see a world of endless hope.
Lt. Colonel Stephen Banfield is the divisional commander of the
Eastern Pennsylvania & Delaware Division. During the events of 9/11,
he served as the Greater New York Division’s incident commander.
Interviews by Hugo Bravo