A day like any other
The morning of September 11, 2001 began as would any other day for Major Thomas Applin. As the divisional secretary for the Empire State Division, one of his responsibilities was to provide emergency disaster services (EDS).
He got up, commuted to work, and sat down at his computer.
“Like everyone else, I was just doing the day,” Applin recalls. “Then the alerts started coming across my computer screen. I usually kept a news channel on in the background. I was constantly monitoring to see what was happening so I could react, especially since I was doing EDS work.”
Ultimately, those alerts made it clear to Applin that passenger planes had hit both World Trade towers in Manhattan, another plane had fallen in Pennsylvania, and still another had crashed into the Pentagon, and all had been hijacked by terrorists. For the next eight weeks, Applin worked non-stop, 20-hour days in support of the Salvation Army’s relief work in Manhattan at what soon became Ground Zero. For the month of November, he served there as the incident commander.
A few weeks after the terrorist attacks, Applin began writing his reflections. He also wrote poetry.
“I can’t call myself a poet,” Applin said. “Since 9/11, I haven’t written much of any kind of poetry. I can’t tell you why. Maybe it’s just by virtue of the appointments that I’ve had or maybe that’s a closed chapter for me, I don’t know.
“I’ve always found it comforting to get my thoughts down in writing. I do love to write. I’ve been a writer in the sense that I’ve done an awful lot of writing for the Army over the years in various capacities and I pride myself in my writing.”
Applin admits the 9/11 writings were therapeutic for him.
“I feel things deeply; I needed some release from that whole experience,” Applin said. “Most people who you talk to who were involved in the effort will tell you that they will never be the same. Sometimes that can take a negative direction, but for me, just being able to express myself helped me get some of that out of my system.”
Applin, a Salvation Army officer for 38 years, is from the Finger Lakes section of New York. He and his wife, Major Kathy Applin, are nearing retirement and are the divisional secretaries for Greater Cleveland in the NEOSA Division.
Applin said serving at Ground Zero 19 years ago was a spiritual time for him.
“When I felt inadequate, I absolutely knew that God was going to make the difference,” Applin said. “I always feel and sense the presence of God, but I think in that day and time, the 9/11 site became a holy place.
“I remember tons of people from Manhattan came and spontaneously volunteered. Whenever I was there, I could sense the spirit of God in them. I don’t know if I had ever felt that way until that time. Perhaps in some respects, I haven’t quite felt the same way since. The ministry the Army then with people of all kinds was an incredible opportunity. I’m certain those people will feel the impact for their whole lives.
“Who would ever think that a place as devastated as the World Trade Center site would become a holy place? But it did.”
by Robert Mitchell
It was a day like any other.
by Major Thomas V. Applin
A sunrise at daybreak;
That obnoxious alarm;
Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and a bran muffin;
A traffic jam;
And the routine of work;
Returning phone calls,
Yes. … It was a day like any other!
And life was changed in an instant.
As I watched the computer monitor, each moment brought a new announcement; A plane crashes into one of the Twin Towers, then the second. Another hits the Pentagon while a fourth crashes into a field in western Pennsylvania. It seemed so surreal, and if the day had not started so much like any other day, I might have thought that it was all a dream.
The next few days were possessed with plan and action; relief teams to organize for response, supplies to acquire, donations to process, volunteers to utilize, canteens to deploy. Early mornings turned into late nights as everyone did whatever they could to assist the grieving families, friends, and co-workers who anxiously waited for some word of encouragement concerning their missing loved one.
By weeks end, I, like the rest of the nation, like you in fact, was overwhelmed by the fear, anger, and devastation of those who had lost loved ones. Their hopelessness, their tears, and their cries for resolution caused my spirit to pray for restoration.