My parents had the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, my grandparents had the attack on Pearl Harbor.
And like they won’t forget those days, I can’t imagine never remembering what happened that Tuesday morning or in the months that followed.
I was just weeks into my junior year of college at Biola University in Southern California.
It’s hard to believe the day before 9/11 my dorm floor had spent the day laughing and bonding together during the annual initiation of new residents.
On Tuesday morning, I was getting ready for my late morning class when I heard a knock on the door.
My resident assistant was going from room-to-room quickly sharing the news that went something like, planes crashed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, there may be more hijacked planes, we’re under attack, we’re going to war and the Palestinians are celebrating in the streets.
At the time, the only things that really registered were, “we’re going to war,” because my brother is in the Air Force and that we were under attack.
If that were true, I thought Los Angeles could easily be next.
I rushed to the emergency prayer meeting in the school’s gymnasium.
It was a place usually filled with cheers and laughter when our basketball team took on our rivals, but even with several hundred students packed in, it was uncannily still that morning except for the person quietly strumming the guitar in the front of the gym, and the occasional sniffling heard from crying students.
Afterward, I ran back to my dorm and the reality of the situation sunk in when I turned on the television as a news station showed earlier footage of United Airlines Flight 175 crashing into the south tower in large ball of fire.
Some professors canceled classes, others thought it best to go on as usual.
Students camped out on each other’s sofas watching the news footage and I remember standing in line at the cafeteria watching the horrible images of the towers collapsing on the television screen.
I collected every magazine with 9/11 events plastered on the front and cut out newspaper clippings — most of which I still have today.
After reading the accounts of the rescue efforts and the personal stories that were being reported, I knew I wanted to help in some way.
My answer came several months later at a meeting about the school’s upcoming missions trips.
It was there I met another student who was heading up a trip to Ground Zero.
And so it began.
For several months, 23 students wanting to help, hoping to bring God’s light and love to a place still riddled with grief, raised money and prepared to go to New York City.
People wondered about us going in the spring, almost six months after 9/11, but the need was still there.
As we prepared for the trip, we were told that when the towers fell, the rubble was 12 stories high.
Because construction workers from all over the world were working day and night to clean up the area, it was called the pit because they had reached the underground.
We worked with the Salvation Army, the only relief organization still offering help by then.
Each morning and night, teams took the subway to a big tent set up near Ground Zero where they served coffee and food to the construction workers, firefighters and police officers.
Some people stayed away from the tent and sought solace at a nearby church where two other people from our team spent the evenings offering a cup of coffee or an encouraging word or prayer when needed.
We went with the 90/10 mindset — 90 percent listening, 10 percent talking.
A friend and I served food and coffee in a tent set up at the morgue located on a street behind NYU.
The street was lined with trailers filled with body parts waiting to be identified.
We were told that identifying bodies was becoming more difficult as some families were moving on and getting rid of loved ones’ items that would contain DNA.
Like the construction workers at Ground Zero, medical examiners from around the world were working around the clock.
During our times serving in the tents, we met people who shared about the impact 9/11 had on them.
I met a FDNY firefighter named Gus who lost friends that day and shared how he thought it was a joke when he was told a plane hit the World Trade Center but found out it was real when he watched the second plane hit.
Others on our team stopped by FDNY engine 10, ladder 10 the closest fire station to the World Trade Center who lost five men.
We also took time to walk around and see the many memorials found all over the lower Manhattan area.
A whole fence was covered with flags —both American and from other countries — as well as signed T-shirts and cards.
The tents at both the morgue and Ground Zero were lined with banners of encouragement and cards from schools and other people from all over the country and around the world.
A memorial near Ground Zero listed all the names of those who died in the planes and in the towers and one of my teammates captured a very moving photo at a memorial he found of what looked like a firefighter’s glove with a wedding ring in it.
After being in New York, it seemed the rest of the country had moved on quickly.
American flags and banners reading God Bless America disappeared just several months after the attacks, but six months later, the pain and devastation was still very real in New York City.
As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, I hope everyone takes a moment to remember the sacrifices made by the firefighters and police officers who went up the towers while others were trying to come down and the thousands of lives lost in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and those on United Flight 93, who reportedly tried taking over the plane and probably prevented it from crashing into a building in Washington D.C.
We will never forget.
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