For many Idahoans, the morning of Sept, 11, 2001 was a warm early fall day, with bright sunshine and a hint of crisp and cooling weather to come. Until media reports started coming out of New York City that were hard to believe.
For hours, many of us were glued to television screens at home, at work, at the golf course, as the horrors of the attacks on American soil played out before our eyes. Surreal. It couldn’t be real.
2,977 people died that day as four planes became lethal weapons of terror.
Two planes went into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. A third plane dove into the Pentagon in Washington D.C. A fourth crashed in rural Pennsylvania as heroic passengers thwarted the hijacking terrorists intended target.
2,753 of those were occupants or first responders to the twin towers that perished as the two structures collapsed, one after the other.
Thousands more are now counted as victims of that day, many from disease attributed to toxin exposure emanating from the rubble of the towers at “Ground Zero.”
To this day Sept. 11, 2001 remains classified as the deadliest terrorist attack in world history. Certainly in American history.
The memories of those days remain with everyone who witnessed it, from afar, and certainly for those up close.
Tempe McFarlane saw the initial attacks from afar — from Idaho. She saw the devastation and the massive often futile recovery efforts at Ground Zero, up close. For three weeks following 9/11 she served as a Red Cross volunteer in New York.
Following her tour of duty, Tempe recorded a number of her thoughts and experiences. The following are excerpts from those memories.
“My first experience of ground zero was when I was flying in to NYC on November 27 for my three week assignment to assist in Disaster Services. The plane was descending, and as it tilted heavily to the side, I could see the entire island of Manhattan, and within seconds was staring straight down at the gaping hole in the middle of the World Financial District to what was once the World Trade Center. It was huge. What I had seen on television was becoming reality.
After Red Cross orientation, checking in with Mass Care, Logistics, and the nurses’ station, I was photographed and given a NYC Ground Zero Incident badge. I was assigned to Pier 94.
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The 200,000 square foot pier on the Hudson River was turned into a temporary DASC (Disaster Action Service Center), opened to assist families who were directly affected by the disaster of 9/11. With a dividing wall down the middle, the right side of the building was for families who had lost a loved one. The interior Wall, about the length of a football field was completely covered with pictures of moms, dads, uncles, husbands, wives and fiancées who lost their lives in the World Trade Center, along with personal notes about coming home, and descriptions of the person. Lining the bottom of the wall were the teddy bears, sent from the 1993 Oklahoma City World Trade Center bombing. Also housed in that area was approximately 50 organizations that set up a temporary camp to help assist the families in the best way possible. Among the organizations were Red Cross, FEMA, NYPD, FDNY, FBI, Dept. of Immigration, Dept. of Insurance, SBA, civil liberties, crime divisions, legal aid, mental health, Dept. of Sanitation and many, many more. That side of the building was extremely somber and was established to help walk families through the grieving process, and all that goes with that.
The other side of the building was for families directly affected, who lost their job at the World Trade Center, or lost their home. This side primarily housed FEMA, the Red Cross, and Salvation Army, but other organizations were also represented. This is the side I worked on doing casework and interviewing families. My job, as an advocate for the client was to find out their needs and help them get the necessary funding to try to move on with their lives. Sometimes I would spend 30 minutes with a client, and other times, 3 hours. Sometimes the client would come in just asking for financial assistance, other times they wanted to tell you everything that happened on 9-11. Our job as caseworkers was to listen and assist.
Personally, I made it to ground zero 3 times. The first time was overwhelming. The second time was one week later. After being in NY for a week and assisting those directly affected by this insane act of terrorism, I felt the need to see ground zero again. It took on a whole new realm of feelings. It helped me better understand the people I was there to help. The third and final time was when I was allowed onto the family viewing platform area, opened only for families of those that are gone, and also for relief and rescue workers. Again, it took on a whole new range of feelings and emotions. It was so large, so expansive. On the platform was a huge plaque that had the names of 80 nations listed in columns…. nations that had lost loved ones. I stayed for a long time. There was no particular smell. The area was fairly quiet, but was extremely bright with rows and rows of lights for the iron and rescue workers still searching for whatever is left to be found. The realism of terrorism became very clear. That moment is imprinted into my heart and soul.
The human bonding has been incredible and the heart of the Red Cross has been manifested in the neutrality and caring attitude of helping all people.
In the highly secured DASC where I helped assist families through the Red Cross, there was a dining area where relief workers and uniformed officers working in the vicinity would gather to have a bite to eat. Each day I would intentionally sit by someone new. It was a place where people could share thoughts and feelings about how things are going in their area of assistance while sharing a meal, and just get to know each other.
To give just a little info to help you understand the bigger picture of 9-11, let me share with you some facts: As of December 2001 and as a direct result of the disaster of 9-11, the Red Cross has served over 11 million meals, opened over 26,000 cases, has had over 31,000 local volunteers from the NYC area helping, has offered mental and spiritual counseling to more than 144,000, and have deployed over 46,000 total disaster workers.
In regards to the World Trade Center community information of 9-11: 80 nations lost citizens, 30,000 – 40,000 people initially displaced, over 170 languages spoken and 40% of the population is foreign born.”
At the time of her service in New York, McFarlane was Director of Community Outreach for Vineyard Christian Fellowship which supported her volunteer efforts with the Red Cross. She remains an active Red Cross volunteer in the Treasure Valley today.
With twenty years of hindsight, McFarlane still deeply feels the impact of those experiences.
“Yes, those days and weeks remain with me,” Tempe said. “I will forever remember: the hundreds of individual people I met in standing in line at Pier 94 waiting to get some kind of help, assistance and answer...they were scared, angry, hurt, lost, bewildered, sad, confused, questioning...sometimes with just one of those emotions, and sometimes with all of those emotions. And so many times, the best thing I could do is to listen, to be a friend and to care.”
She sees the lasting impact on our country, beyond those who were at Ground Zero those three weeks in 2001.
“9-11-2001 was a turning point for every person in the USA. For me, it was a blatant reality that terrorism was actually on our home turf…something we never thought could be so real, and that we as Americans are hated by certain people,” McFarlane said. “But, we cannot let hate win, and we cannot live in fear. It has taught me that life is precious. We must cherish our freedoms, and those who have fought for them, for all of us. We are not promised tomorrow. We must live today, being aware of others needs, how to treat them, serve them, care for people, not hold grudges, to love one another, to remain hopeful, and to be kind. That is how it colors my world – it turned the negative into a positive and a stronger purpose to seek change. We cannot control others, but we can control “us”. There’s a lot of darkness today, but the light overcomes the dark. Let’s be change makers for good.”