This 7 minute presentation was given by Mary and Jim Edwards from the steps of the McKinley Monument, Canton Ohio on September 11, 2011:
I’m sure those of you who are old enough to remember, know exactly where you were that day, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. For myself, I had taken my bike out and rode a short distance to have coffee with my parents. It was a crisp, clear day with that blue sky that you only see in the autumn. It felt good, the beginning of a great day. I didn’t know that the era in our history of never having an “incident” on our soil was drawing to a close; that things would never be the same in my beloved country, the USA, and the next 3 weeks were going to change my life.
When I arrived in their apartment, my parents were standing stunned in front of the TV. As I looked, I saw what you all saw the first tower burning and the second one about to be hit. I saw in total disbelief as the towers fell, first one and then the other. I can remember screaming “Oh God, this can’t be true”. But it was … We were under attack by terrorists. Words, that up to this time only happened in some far off place.
We are Red Cross volunteers, and so, later on that day, after much discussion, Jim and I decided that we would go to New York to work for the Red Cross. It wasn’t an easy decision; I admit to being very afraid. Who knew what else these evil people had planned for our country. I wanted to stay “close to the nest” where I felt I had at least a little control, where I was close to our children, grandchildren and parents.
So on the next day, Wednesday, we took the Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) and headed east. I’d like to share, just for a couple of minutes, my memory of the way the whole world reacted to this tragic day, A coming together of the people of America like we had never seen.
Our first inkling of how the rest of the country was coming together was seen as we drove across Rt. 80 and had people on both sides of the road, cars, trucks and motorcycles, waving and giving us the thumbs up sign. Then, as we worked feeding the Fire Fighters and rescue workers, we were faithfully assisted by residents of New York City who came in large numbers and gave of their time. We had been to NYC many times before, and had always known that the natives were not real friendly, never met your eyes, let alone spoke to anyone. This time was so different. We grew to love these people who worked tirelessly with us every day. One lady, whose husband was in the shipping business told him of our desperate need for ice at Ground Zero, and throughout the city. He notified his shipping clients all over the world, and in the next 24 hours, they donated over $210,000, just for ice, and all of this money was from overseas companies.
People came from every state, even some celebrities. Many people brought “therapy dogs”. One, I remember was from Oregon. They spent time with the rescue workers, bringing comfort to them during down times when they ate or rested.
In our grade school cafeteria, where we served meals, we received thousands of cards and letters sent to the rescue and recovery people from school children as far away as Australia. Piles of them were on the dining tables for them to read with sweet messages of gratitude, hope and encouragement. They were all read and very much appreciated.
Then, it seemed 3 weeks passed in a blur and it was time to go home. We left our life in New York to return to the normal routine of home. While working in NY, we were really unaware of the “togetherness” going on outside the microcosm of Ground Zero. Back here, in Canton, we saw cars with flags flying, in fact flags flying everywhere, a sea of red white and blue. It seemed everywhere we went, people were singing “God bless America”, our National Anthem and Lou Greenwood was heard singing, “I’m proud to be an American”.
But each year, as the anniversary of 9/11 comes and goes it seems people, in general, not all, have forgotten patriotism again, forgotten what happened to us… become complacent. We must never forget this wake up call, never take our freedom for granted again. I want to encourage everyone to fly that flag again. Respect it when it is flown at public functions. It represents the greatest country in the world, the one that we are blessed to live in, the land of the free, home of the brave, one nation under God, the United States of America.
We were stationed at Public School 234, 200 yards North of the rubble, there was a thick coating of dust on everything in the school. The windows had been left open when the children and teachers had left in a hurry. The whole school was disorganized, but with the help of many Local Disaster Volunteers, it became a comfortable, clean cafeteria where the workers could come to eat & rest. Each classroom had 4 or 5 cots set up as a sleeping facility for the firemen & rescue workers and they were used all day and night. In the gymnasium, NYC had set up a Triage Center for medical care, it was seldom used. Just outside of the front door of the school, the City of New York had set up a distribution system for respirators, flashlights, boots, and shovels, etc. We were impressed because NYC had tons of this equipment stored below City Hall, ready for any emergency.
Each day we were up at 3:30 in the morning. We would arrive at the Kitchen at about 5. Mary would load the Emergency Response Vehicle with snacks, beverages, and paper products while I would load the heavier containers of hot food onto the Red Cross truck. We would take breakfast to the gates of Ground Zero, produce our IDs to get in, and serve until mid-morning, and then drive back to the kitchen to load lunch. We would stop serving lunch at about 4:00 and return to the kitchen to sterilize the 18 cambros. At the end of our day, we’d take the subway Uptown, have dinner on the way back to the hotel, and settle ourselves by talking to our children and parents. We were in bed by 9.
In the cafeteria is where we looked into the eyes and faces of our heros, those who so selflessly worked day & night, driven to find survivors, many of whom were their friends family, and fellow workers. We served hot meals to them whenever they took time to eat. They were always ravenously hungry & did appreciate our food. The school cafeteria was full of men but, due to the respect for the mission, very little noise.
To stand in front of something that we’d seen happen on TV a few short hours earlier; to see it in perspective, the size of it, along with the smell, the sounds of equipment and the faces of the workers. To know that in that hideous pile were thousands of people, maybe some still alive was overwhelming. To know that all this was not caused by an accident but by people who purposely did it to demonstrate their hatred for us was almost unbearable. We saw the rubble every day because of where we were stationed, and every time, it brought tears and heartache. The blessing for us was we were working so hard & kept so busy that we could put it out of our minds. But when we returned to our hotel we would let go of our emotions and were glad to have had each other to hold.
Let us never forget!
Mary - We’d like read to you an excerpt from a sermon by Rick Warren that he gave on Sept. 23, 2001 called "What a Difference a Day Makes"
Before Sept 11 ---- Americans watched a TV show called "Fear Factor"
After 9-11 ---- Americans experienced it!
Before ---- People gossiped about celebrities
After ---- People thought about heroes
Before ---- Americans discussed diversity
After ---- Americans demonstrated unity
Before ---- People lined up to watch movies
After ---- People lined up to give blood
Before ---- We felt we were invincible
After ---- We realized we were vulnerable
Before ---- Democrats were fighting Republicans
After ---- Democrats & Republicans held hands and sang "God Bless America"
Before ---- People packed into clubs to party
After ---- People packed into churches to pray
Before ---- We saved money for school or retirement
After ---- We gave money away to help others
Before ---- We thought we’d live forever
After ---- We saw how fragile life really is!
Before ---- Parents argued with their kids
After ---- Parents hugged their kids tightly
Before ---- People e-mailed jokes
After ---- People e-mailed prayers
Before ---- We focused on ourselves
After ---- We focused on God
Thank you, and God Bless America!