September 11 Digital Archive: XML Document
Story:Dear Family and Friends,
Home, sweet home! Arrived home last Thursday evening from NYC after a 3 week assignment volunteering for the Am. Red Cross. My job was to interview families, friends and acquaintances of ”missing” or identified people who died Sept. 11. I also interviewed the families of passengers of those ill-fated flights, those who were injured fleeing for their lives and the “suddenly unemployed”. I was assigned to “Pier 94”, a 100,000 sq. foot massive structure, all on one level on the same body of water as is the Statue of Liberty. You may have, or will hear of it in the
news because that is where all the major agencies as well as the Am. Red Cross locate themselves. It is also from Pier 94 that families are escorted by boat to “Ground Zero” for closure.
They, the families and friends of loved ones “lost” or “missing”, congregate in a special room called “the staging” area. It is there they receive or choose a bouquet of flowers if they already hadn’t brought some, and a teddy bear. They will be “briefed” as to what to expect. Accompanying them are a support team
consisting of Red Cross Mental Health and Red Cross
representatives of various religions. They are all escorted by uniformed and armed State Troopers. All board a double-decker boat which takes about 30 minutes to dock near Battery Park, within walking distance of “Ground Zero”. They walk, wearing their hard hats and goggles to the site. Face masks are available. Soldiers stand at attention saluting until all pass thru the boundary gates, climb up some stairs to an observation area. It is from here that those who lost loved ones have the opportunity to gaze across all the destruction, cranes, bulldozers, smokey areas and workers to say their last goodbyes. Many are weeping, others clutch themselves or each other, and
almost everyone is dabbing tissues at their eyes. It’s awesome and terribly sad. After 15 minutes or so, they turn to go to a makeshift memorial. No one is talking. It’s quiet except for the sounds of recovery taking place at “Ground Zero”. Families and friends leave a picture, a note or letter, a teddy bear, a candle, or some special momento and flowers on the huge collection of all that has been left my others before them. They are allowed a few
moments there. They return to the boat. It is quiet. No one is talking or making eye contact.
Oct. 11th. My first day reporting to Pier 94. I sure wasn’t prepared for what I was to experience that first hour. All along the perimeter were pictures, yellow ribbons and letters along with flowers and stuffed animals displayed on the boundary wall. Written words such as “Have you seen....” or “missing” or personal notes from children to their missing parent or parents,
or brothers looking for sisters, or sisters searching for
brothers, or friends asking for information etc. On an on.
Overwhelming! Then a gauntlet of 3 check points. I had to open by backpack and butt bag and show my ID and Red Cross Badge at the first check point. 2nd check point, show again my badge and ID as well at the check-in table where my name would be cleared for entry. German shepherds everywhere. Well-behaved, but everywhere. Armed military, police, state troopers, NYPD Community personnel, SWAT Teams and others from neighboring states. Every day another kind of uniform I hadn’t seen the day before.
My first day inside, I was given a tour. There were huge areas marked off with red and blue carpeting. The red areas were areas marked off due to the kind of assignment they had. DNA testing was done there and death certificates were given. Also, there were many booths marked “Legal” for legal counselling. I was
taken along the right side of the building where there was a cafeteria serving families and friends only. It was clearly marked that no videos and cameras would be allowed. Also, there were childcare and child counselling provided for those families or friends who wanted to take advantage of it. This was provided by a national religious group; Church of the Brethen, I believe. I heard nothing but good about the service they provide.
I then continued down one side of the far wall which was massive and long. There was no standard ceiling. Like a huge open facility, a kind of wharf type of building exposing metal high beams. This particular wall was covered with more letters, cards and notes with heart wrenching messages. Hundreds of teddybears arrived from Oklahoma City and placed along the wall on the floor
continuing down the huge corridor of the building. It was stated that they were a gift from those who lost loved ones in the Oklahoma bombing.
After passing various areas partitioned off for the agencies represented there, I came to my side of this huge structure where I would spend my next 3 weeks anywhere from 10 to 12 hours a day, with one day off every 7th day. I worked in the “annex” a special private area dedicated for families and friends of the “lost or missing”. It was quieter there, more private. However, there
were hours when I wouldn’t have a family or friend of a missing person, and I would go to the huge pool of people and be assigned an individual next on the list. The stories of “fleeing for their lives” or of seeing horrors took up time even before I could begin the paperwork required to open a Red Cross Case. But it usually went that way. And that was OK. I wasn’t required to meet a quota. I would be introduced to my next client and would ask them
to follow me to my desk. Forget the usual openers ie “and how are you today?’” kinds of greetings. Not appropriate. I’d ask if they waited long. They usually did. Then I’d ask them if they’d like to use the restrooms, would like a coffee, had they eaten, did they have children at the care center and would they like to check in on them before we started? Many were not aware of the free cafeteria. Local chefs would come in and prepare really nice food for the families and those all affected by the disaster and
for the Staff Cafeteria on the opposite side of the structure. It had huge family style table clothed covered tables with fresh flowers every day. There was also a huge bank of telephones at tables and thru out this huge building for anyone to make a call anywhere in the world FREE of charge and NO time limits. Incredible!
Each day I walked to Pier 94 from my hotel on 57th & 7th. It was a pleasant walk, especially since it was autumn, an Indian summer as they say, no rain. I’d get my coffee across from my hotel and walk the 20-25 minutes to the Pier. I’d drink my coffee and mentally prepare myself for the long day ahead. I would arrive at Pier 94 by 7:10AM in time for my 7:30 briefing. Then by 8:30 I would have already had breakfast and ready to begin. I can’t go
into the individual cases I had. It would take pages and pages.
My function was a tech in Family Service. I processed families and friends of missing people by opening an ARC (Am Red Cross) 901 file. Then with my supervisor’s assistance, we would prepare the ”Cash gift” paperwork as well as addressing immediate financial needs. This would sometimes take 2-3 hours and could be very emotional for the families. Wives of fireman were escorted by 2
firemen from her husband’s battalion. They would do most of the talking and the giving of paperwork, ie death certificate, bills, mortgage and loan papers etc. One department was so pleased with the way I handled the whole interview, that they came back and handed me the NYC FireDepartment badge they all have sewn on their uniforms. I was so touched and honored.
My supervisors were fantastic! They made me look great! I
learned so much. I interviewed many families and people; sons of fathers who died, brothers of brothers who died, wives of husbands who died, lovers, sisters, Aunts, nephews, uncles, fiances, friends grieving their loss and all other combinations of relationships. The injured were a whole other story. Their nightmare continues. The horrors they saw while fleeing for their lives. One woman I interviewed lost her front teeth and fractured
her tibia as well as losing her job. Another saw an airplane part plummeting to earth and causing grave injury to another, and others told me of the sight of people and paper in the air. They could only shake their heads in disbelief and downcast their eyes. Do you wonder how I managed? Me too. I’m just now beginning to process and integrate the whole experience. I cry more easily
these days and I thought writing this would be good. And of course I have Eric (my husband), my family and friends. LIfe feels a bit changed for me. It’s for the better, but just how it’s changed in the long run I can’t say for sure. I know my priorities have shifted. I notice things, colors, and people’s faces more than before. I take time now. Slower now. Quality time and my loved ones and friends.
The day before the Memorial to be held Sunday 10/28, I came into Pier 94 thru another door. They were preparing the area where staff usually enters for the arrival of the urns to be distributed to all those they were expecting the following day for the Memorial Service. While I was eating breakfast, I heard the sound of bagpipes and trumpets. I walked to the area where they were playing. Hearses were arriving one after another and wheeled carts ladened with cardboard boxes holding smaller boxes containing wooden urns holding “cleaned soil” from “Ground Zero” were being wheeled past soldiers, firemen and police officers
standing at attention and saluting while these loaded carts where wheeled past. The sound of all those bagpipe players was overwhelming! Representatives of the various agencies, FEMA, Crime Justice Board, NYFD, NYPD, FBI etc, you name it, was there chosen to escort the ladened carts past all of us onlookers. This went on for about 2 hours. Between the time a cart was rolled past and before another was rolled in, personnel was commanded to be “at ease”. As soon as another load of cartons entered the building,
either the bagpipe players or trumpeters would play and uniformed personnel snapped into position either saluting or holding their hand over their hearts, as we onlookers did. It was all so solemn.
The following day, I returned to Pier 94 dressed in black slacks and white shirt. I was given a purple sash to wear across my torso and my job would be to hand out an urn to each person who presented a card to me clarifying who it was they “lost”. We all did this with partners and each had a curtained private area with a white tablecloth with a small vase of flowers and a box of kleenex. The urns were stacked behind us along with the military folded American flags. Families were then escorted to available
tables whereupon I would request the card and ask them to sign it. My partner choose an urn which was inside a box. The box was almost black about 10” high. The urn inside was made of mahagony wrapped in a dark purple drawstringed sack made of velvet. I would then say “On behalf of the citizens of NYC and the United States of America, please accept this urn and our condolences in memory of the loss of your loved one”, then we would also hand over the
folded American flag the proper way we were showed to do.
Qivering lips, tearing eyes, the gripping of hands for support, the bent head, the raised head for some and other assorted body postures were the order of the day. My voice cracked when a child reached up for the flag in memory of his Dad. So young and yet strong for his years. Another two, a woman and her daughter receiving the urn and flag for the woman’s son, her daughter’s brother. Both incredibly shaken, gripping each other for support
hardly able to utter “thank you” or whatever words I thought they were trying to say as they hurried away. We handed out urns starting 3:00 until 7PM. A very emotionally draining day.
I’m home now, but things are different. This assignment changed me I know. Just how I can’t quite say. But it’s good. That I know. I wanted to share my incredible experience with you. I felt extremely privileged to do what I had the opportunity to do. I did my best and I gave my all. Some of those faces I’ll never forget nor their stories. I am grateful and thankful for the little I
could do. I hope it helped. For most I’m sure it did. I will never ever forget those 3 weeks that changed my life. Thanks for listening. I appreciate you all and thank you for your love, support and friendship.
Red Cross Volunteer:yes
Red Cross Employee:no