dispatch from ground zero

September 22, 2001
My mom is a Major in the Salvation Army, the church I grew up in. Although I no longer stand with them because of doctrinal differences, I support what they do. They really put their money where there mouth is when it comes to doing good works. The following is a message from Major Cheryl Miller, assistant secretary for program for the Salvation Army in NYC. (My mom was stationed in NYC from 1992-1998 or so.) I find it to be really moving.

Friday, September 14

I want to share my experience with you and I thought this way, through email, was the best way.

For the past two days, because of the tragedy in NYC on Tuesday, September 11, I have been at the Medical Examiner's building, better known as the morgue.

I went with Major Molly Shotzberger and I am now on her counseling team. It has been an experience, needless to say. We had a canteen there to serve coffee, food and whatever. But my job was to help the cops, doctors, nurses, medical examiners and who ever was involved with receiving the bodies for identification to get through the ordeal. We were there just to say, "How are you doing?" "Can I get you anything?" "Can I do anything for you?" Most of them said they were ok. They were going to make it through. Some of them wanted to talk. Talk about their feelings, their anger, their frustration. Some of them themselves lost "brothers and sisters" from their precincts and they were looking for them while they worked. On Wednesay when we first arrived at the morgue two cops came over to us and we said "What can we do for you?" "One of our members said we are here to help you." They said, "can you get us some American flags?" "We would like six flags." "Huge ones" We said, "Of course." Called Greater New York DHQ and requested the flags. They came a few hours later. We found those two same policemen who requested the flags and gave the flags to them. The one policeman's eyes started to well up with tears. We asked them what they were going to do with the flags. "Well," one officer who had tears streaming down his face said, "See those three semi trucks down the street?" "Well, those trucks have bodies of our fellow officers in them and we want to identify those trucks with the flags." They took the flags and draped them over the trucks. It was an awesome sight as we all stood there with tears now streaming down our cheeks.

During the course of the day we ran out of sandwiches. Just as the last sandwich was taken we weren't sure what we were going to do. Well, lo and behold, about 6 young people between the ages of 18 - 20 came up to one of our members at the canteen and said, "We just had to do something and we didn't know what to do. So we decided to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Can you use them?" Isn't God good?!

Other than the cops, doctors, nurses, medical examiners we were the only ones allowed to go right down where the bodies were being taken from the truck and examined. I was standing next to a cop and we were watching them take a body bag off the truck. Rather than take the bag into the protected room, they put the bag on a gurney and started to unzip the bag right there. I stood there with that cop and watched them examine the contents of the bag. I could only recognize a chared arm, the rest of the contents was beyond recognition. The cop said, "Do you see that?" I said, "Yes." I said, "Are you alright?" He said, "Yah." He said, "Are you alright?" I said, "Yah." Neither of us looking at each other during that small conversation. I turned to him and he just stood there shaking his head in unbelief. We talked for a few more minutes and then he went back to work. I touched his shoulder as he walked away to let him know I would pray for him. By Thursday the stench was unbearable. It was difficult to stand down at the place where they were taking the bodies out of the trucks. It was difficult to be standing there and trucks pulling into the area and knowing that bodies were in those trucks. The bodies were transported from Ground Zero to the morgue in a small truck. Then, once examined, they were transported to a bigger, refrigerator truck and kept there till it was full, and then taken to the Armoury where the families came to identify them.

I saw a lot of body parts in bags. Many bodies were not intact. Each part would be in its own bag. A couple of times when the bag was transported from the first truck to the gurney the sun was behind the bag and I could see through the bag and recognize what that item was. It is a picture I will never get out of my mind.

Another cop I was talking to was telling me that he was here when they brought in the Chief Fireman and Asst. Chief Fireman. They could not recognize either of the men. The cop was saying that the one on the left was naked and was charred all over his body. Unrecognizable. The one on the right was fully clothed but had no head and no arms. It was difficult for this cop to tell me this story.

On Thursday, when we were leaving the site and thinking that we were going to Ground Zero at 3:00p.m. (but couldn't because they were evacuating because they were afraid another building was going to collapse), a woman named Marilyn fell in front of the canteen. Several of us were there and helped her up. Two men standing there were doctors and they asked her if she wanted to be checked for any cuts. She said no. But she needed to sit down, so I found her a seat on a cooler and I knew she was distraught. I asked her what she was doing and if I could get her anything to eat or drink. She asked for a drink of water. I gave her a bottle of water and started to talk to her. I asked her where she was going. She said, "I have to find the crisis center. I have to talk to someone." I said, "Can you talk to me? Can I help you?" She started to tell me that she saw the whole thing. She saw the first plane hit, the second plane hit, and then witnessed the collapse of the buildings. She couldn't get the picture out of her mind. She can't sleep, can't eat and does a lot of crying. I talked to her for a few minutes, prayed with her and she said she felt so much better. Not because of me, but because I was able to tell her that there is hope; that God will see her through this. We were waiting for the van to come and pick us up, in fact it was late. I can't help but believe that God allowed that woman to trip near our canteen and made our van late so that I could have a few moments with Marilyn.

I am anxious to go down to Ground Zero. The firemen are requesting counseling so I know we are needed.

They are so many more stories I could tell you. Please share this with anyone you want.

I'm so thankful that Gary was not in the air at the time. He just got home on the Monday before from flying ontwo planes to get home. Just a week before the attack Gary and I were on the same route that one of the planes was taking from Newark Airport to San Franscisco (not the same airlines). God has been very good through all of this. Be in prayer.

Blessings, Cheryl