Rank and race disappeared on September 11, 2001, at the Pentagon and at Ground Zero in New York in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks.
The fire chief in charge of the recovery process at the Pentagon made an announcement around 4 o'clock p.m.
“'We need volunteers to put on masks and gloves and be willing to do a sweep through the Pentagon. Any volunteers?' People ran to get a place in line,” recalled Charlie Baldwin, Air Force deputy chief of chaplains at the time.
“So here we were in line. Next to me was a two-star general, and I was a one-star general. We’re standing in our blues. We stepped forward, put on gloves, put on the masks. They gave us the instructions to stay together in rows, and we were going to sweep through the building and walk through the clouds of fire, dust and all that. And just before he said, ‘OK, this line step forward,’ a brigade from Arlington Cemetery pulled up in buses.”
Because this brigade was trained and ready to do a sweep, the fire chief released the volunteers.
“I looked around and saw the field full of people who were willing to step into the fiery furnace to go and see if somebody else could be pulled out. So we stepped away and went back to the areas where we could be helpful, be the pastors present.”
Baldwin noticed that all hands were on deck, rank had disappeared.
“One second lieutenant, a young lady, came running over to me. She said ‘Chaplain, what can I do to help?’ I said, ‘Go to that tent and just wipe their brows and you will help.’”
She went to one of the collection tents where they were bringing victims, set up cots, and did whatever needed to be done.
“Right beside her was this two-star general, and he did the same thing. ‘I want to help what can I do?’ And I said, ‘Set up cots and help those medic people get ready so they could help people. Tell them not to be afraid. Tell them God is here. He will take care of them.”
Everyone, no matter their rank, became the same in that moment. They were instruments of peace aiding their fellow Americans in a time of great need and tragedy.
"Military chaplains have that type of experience that says, ‘God is present on the battlefield, not to help people kill people but to help them through the tragedies and consequences of sin. They don’t bless the bombs, they just pray that God would be present with those who are the instruments, even we would say the instruments of peace. It’s an amazing thing.”
Race also did not matter at the Pentagon or at Ground Zero at the World Trade Center in New York. All first responders pulled together and worked to help each other -- police, fire, EMTs, hospitals and the military. Regular citizens also joined the first responders to help. People dug through the rubble with their bare hands and moved chunks of concrete and metal to help anyway they could.
One New York police officer recently recalled that as they were working the rescue effort, everyone would go silent when a body, or in most cases, body pieces, were found.
He explained that a Chinese American woman started cooking for the first responders on day one and was there every day through the efforts. She would stop the first responders and say: "You have to eat. You need your strength." Soon acupuncturists, massage therapists and others became cooks and joined her in a line of people tending to the needs of the first responders.
The result of this unity and equality was a rebirth of patriotism. Pride in America soared for years after the terrorist attacks. Americans of all persuasions proudly waved American flags. No matter class, rank or skin color, patriotism was in the hearts and minds of families, workers, corporate leaders, military members, and those in the media.
Remembering the unity and patriotism that energized Americans after 9/11 is important on this 20th anniversary. Today's headlines are filled with critical race theory conflicts at school board meetings and churches, accusations of racism, Americans left behind in Afghanistan, political division, athletes who hate their country and kneel for the national anthem, differences of opinion about masks, vaccine status discrimination, moving medical goalposts, lies by Dr. Fauci and the medical bureaucracy, and unconstititional actions by President Biden.
Americans have forgotten what the terrorist attacks of 9/11 taught them: love of God, love of family, love of country, and love of each other. Rank, race and religion did not matter. An America first culture mattered. Americans need a Great Awakening, a rebirth to reclaim these lost values of patriotism.
Adapted in part from Stories of Faith and Courage from the War in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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