It would seem every generation has an event so impactful that it leaves a permanent impression on the entire generation.

My Grandfather could tell you where he was and what he was doing when he learned that the atomic bomb had been dropped.

My dad can list every detail of the day JFK was shot.

Our generation has 9/11.

It was a beautiful, clear morning. I was riding shotgun in a golf cart, placing signs at every tee and hole on one of the most beautiful country clubs in Rockland County, New York. This course was particularly known for its view of the New York City skyline. As we drove, I found myself thinking about how great I had it. It was just two months following my college graduation. I had an amazing wife, a sixth-story condo, a great job as a youth pastor which, on this day, would require me to sit in the grass and watch the 7th hole while enjoying all the complimentary snacks I could consume over the next 10 hours.

Our cart never made it as far as the 7th hole that day.

By the 4th hole we watched every golf cart with a driver turn off the approved path and head straight for the edge of the course. Curiosity getting the best my captain (pastor), we followed the golf cart stampede. As we approached the near pile-up of golf carts, the city skyline came into view. The once clear view of Manhattan was quickly filling with smoke. We weren’t sure what had happened, but we knew it was big.

My new boss looked at me and said, “Time to get to work.”

There would be no sitting in the grass for me. Over the next two and a half days, I ran a mobile feeding truck, poured water into the mouths of people just feet away from the bodies they were sorting, looked into the vacant stares of desperate family members, slept for four hours in a shelter next to survivors, and spent time as the de facto Protestant chaplain praying in tandem with a Catholic priest every time a body was pulled from the wreckage.

Eighteen years later, it is the little things that occasionally pull me back to that day - the unexpected sight of dust on my uniform shoes, the roar of a passing train, seeing a "Lost Pet" sign out of the corner of my eye, a smell and, most recently, it was the sight of a friend who served with me during those first few weeks.

Memories that I have filed away just get yanked back to the surface from time to time. They aren’t all bad either. Some of the memories are horrific, to be sure. I remember word for word a conversation I had with a woman who was searching for her son and her faith. Some of the memories however make me smile even now.

It was after 2 a.m. on Sept. 12, we were serving food at the “Hot Zone." (Which is what they were calling “Ground Zero” before they started calling it ‘Ground Zero.”) We were running out of food and the check points had stopped allowing non-essential persons through the gate. I remember returning to our food truck after a failed attempt to convince the troopers to let our supplies through. Even before I saw the truck, I heard laughter.

I rounded the corner to see my brother in-law, Aaron, who had tables set up outside the truck where he and the rest of our team were serving steak, lobster and all manner of fancy, high-end dishes. The tables were covered in cloth table cloths and the food was in shiny catering style chafing dishes. Aaron was cracking jokes in the middle of what felt like a war zone and there were 50 or more first responders standing around many smiling and laughing at the out of place scene.

Evidently, while I was unsuccessfully arguing with the gate keepers, my brother in-law discovered a couple of out of place restaurant owners from New Jersey who loaded a boat with all of their stock and circumvented the gates and fences by approaching via the water. These men had lots of food but no way to serve it. We had a food truck and tables, but the food was gone. The partnership was instant. The need was met.

When tragedy strikes people seem to pull together. But what if we didn’t wait for some major catastrophe. What if we started pulling together now and addressing problems in our city.

It shouldn’t take a ‘9/11’ to pull us together.

We are all neighbors. The best way for us to “Never Forget” is for us to grow as a people and a community and as a nation.

We remember by letting those days change us for them better.

   

Major Stephen Carroll, Jr. serves with his wife Major Delia as the Commanding Officers of The Salvation Army Niagara Falls Corps. If you are interested in having him speak to your group or organization about his time at Ground Zero or the work of The Salvation Army in Greater Niagara Falls, he can be reached at Stephen.Carrolljr@use.salvationarmy.org.

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• State officials do their part to make sure future generations with 'never forget.' OPINION, 6A

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