9/11 reflections with Robert Loesch: The words of an apostle

  • In this Sept. 11, 2017, file photo, the Tribute in Light illuminates in the sky above the Lower Manhattan area of New York, as seen from across the Hudson River in Jersey City, N.J. AP

Published: 9/10/2021 11:24:56 AM

I was registered to attend an international conference of representatives of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) at the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan from Sept. 9-14, 2001.

I had attended this annual conference for several years to learn about the work of these organizations and the United Nations. As a resident of Springfield and interim pastor of the South Deerfield Congregational Church, I represented the global ministries and justice programs of the national United Church of Christ.

On Sunday, I went to Manhattan by bus, and on Monday attended seminars and meetings all day. Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, I walked from my room at the Vanderbilt YMCA three blocks away, to begin the morning sessions. While waiting in the lower level of the UN at 8 a.m., I watched a TV at the snack bar. With a small group of delegates, we watched in horror as the first plane crashed at 8:46 a.m. into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. At 9:03 a.m. we watched the second plane crash into the South Tower. Within minutes everyone in the 38-story high UN Secretariat building was ordered to evacuate for fear that it might be the target of further attacks.

I returned to my spartan room at the YMCA and continued to follow the local news reports on the small TV. I watched the Pentagon building struck at 9:37 a.m., the collapse of the South Tower at 9:59 a.m. and the collapse of the North Tower at 10:28 am. At 10:03 am, the fourth plane crashed into a field in Shanksville, PA, twenty minutes from the expected target of the White House.

By 11:02 am Mayor Giuliani ordered the evacuation of everyone from lower Manhattan.Officials reported that only trained emergency responders and medical personnel were requested to go to the scene of the disaster. Without such training, I knew there was little I could do to help. All public transportation had ceased in Manhattan. City busses were placed to block traffic on the cross streets. Taxis were enlisted to transport emergency persons or victims. Only the major uptown-downtown major streets were open for traffic, and limited to emergency vehicles and pedestrians.

After following the news for a few hours, I walked several blocks to the center of mid-town to observe from the long distance the rescue and recovery efforts in lower Manhattan. The sights and sounds of that day are seared into my memory. I stood on the sidewalk or sat along the curbside of Park Avenue, watching the horde of thousands of men and women of all ages walking northward along the main avenues, heading to their homes or to safe places. With all of the bridges closed to vehicular traffic, many of the survivors were walking to cross one of the bridges off the island.

Cell towers had been shut down and cell phones were useless. Everyone was covered from head to toe with grey ash and white powder. Many were carrying their shoes, walking barefoot in a huge slow, steady, silent stream of humanity. Most were looking sad, fearful, in shock and dismay. Some would stop along the curbside or sidewalk to sit and rest. In those moments I could listen and share my support for them, the only comfort I could give.

These were the survivors who had escaped major injury or death. Most did not know the fate of their co-workers or friends, and could not reach their families to reassure them of their own safety. Frequently, ambulances, police cruisers and fire trucks were moving north and south. Into the late evening this march of survivors continued.

For the next two days I remained at the Y watching the news, eating in the cafeteria, or walking out among the empty streets. In this time, I was able to give comfort and assistance to many of the residents of the Y. Many of them were visitors from foreign countries or other parts of the US. With those who had little understanding of English, stranded in a strange land, I was able to help them use the public landline telephone and suggest resources for help.

By Thursday evening, Sept. 13, the trains resumed and I was able to return from Grand Central Station to Springfield. Friday evening I officiated at two wedding rehearsals and on Saturday officiated at the marriages in South Deerfield. Both families had decided to proceed with their plans as a statement of hope for the future and a resistance to the terrorist acts.

During the Sunday morning worship service, I encouraged the congregation to recall the acts of heroism and sacrifice of many innocent people in New York City, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC. In the midst of the terrible evil of that day, and on the days since, I encouraged them to reflect on the words and actions of the many people who ministered and cared for one another.

I suggested that Sunday to listen to the words of the apostle Paul in relation to those who responded to the disaster of 9/11. Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus (Ephesians 6:13-17): “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

Today, 20 years after 9/11, these words of the apostle are still relevant and applicable. One of my personal responses to 9/11 was to rededicate myself even more passionately to work for justice and peace.

Robert Loesch lives in Springfield.


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