09/10/06 — Wayne couple recalls volunteering at World Trade Center

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Wayne couple recalls volunteering at World Trade Center

By Winkie Lee
Published in News on September 10, 2006 2:05 AM

As Tom and Jean Frye drove up I-95 North toward New York, drivers honked their car horns, gave the thumbs-up sign and waved small American flags. Some pulled over to allow the Fryes to pass by more quickly.

They didn't know the couple, but they recognized the Red Cross emergency response vehicle and knew the Fryes were preparing to give of themselves to help others.

About a week earlier, on Sept. 11, 2001, the United States had been attacked by terrorists. A plane had crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Another had gone down in a field in Pennsylvania after passengers stormed the cockpit and refused to allow the hijackers to complete their deadly mission.

In New York, the twin towers of the World Trade Center had collapsed after two planes were flown into them. No one knew yet how many lives had been lost, but they knew the number would be high.

The Fryes were among the volunteers making their way to the disaster scene to feed those who had worked day and night to try to rescue as many people as they could and who were now involved in the grim task of locating remains of the dead.

Two years earlier, when the Grantham couple had signed up for disaster training, they had envisioned assisting after hurricanes, floods or tornadoes.

They never thought they would be doing this.

Monday marks five years since the terrorist attack on the United States.

Five years ... but the memories are still fresh and painful.

Seated in the conference room at the American Red Cross on George Street, the Fryes think back to that journey. They were nervous about what they would see, Mrs. Frye remembers. The thankfulness of people they encountered made things a little better, and the American flag hanging from each overpass spoke to the country's unity.

That unity would continue to be felt once they began their work. For 14 to 16 hours a day, they served meals, snacks and drinks. The weather was beginning to get cold, and hot chocolate was particularly popular.

With the picking up of meals and snacks came conversation and tears ... tears from people not normally known to show such emotion: law enforcement officers, firefighters and rescue workers.

Priests came up to the feeding area, also in need of comfort food and a comforting ear. And, like the rescuers, they cried.

Queen Noor of Jordan came to see ground zero. Actor John Travolta did also, hugging Mrs. Frye while there. There were other dignitaries and celebrities who showed up to view the site to pay their respects.

And family members came. Escorted by the Red Cross, they looked at the place where the World Trade Center once stood -- and where their loved ones were lost. Upon seeing the destruction, they realized they would not see their loved ones again.

"They knew no one could survive that," Frye says.

Each day, as the couple went to their sites, they saw walls filled with pictures of missing people and messages begging for information and help.

That, and the expressions on the faces of the rescue workers, made it impossible to even think of complaining about being tired after a long day of volunteering, Mrs. Frye says.

The Fryes were stationed at different locations over four weeks. All of the stations were near ground zero.

They saw the smoldering smoke and learned it was coming from a fire five to six stories down. A fire hose could not be lowered that far. It would melt. Rescue dogs could not be used in some of the locations where they were needed because their unprotected paws could not tolerate the heat.

Frye remembers asking a rescuer one day if he had found any remains and being told that a part of a torso had been located.

As a body or a part of one was found and removed, the site would become silent. Then the sounds of talk and work would begin again.

Frank Farrell, now director at O'Berry Center, also helped rescuers. His were in Washington, D.C., and he traveled there as a volunteer with the Salvation Army.

He, too, watched with appreciation as drivers waved and tapped their car horns at the Salvation Army truck and the people in it.

And he, too, watched as people from the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and law enforcement agencies shifted through shovels full of debris, looking for evidence and body parts.

He could smell the petrol and burned hair.

And something about the site itself struck him.

The feeding station he worked at was set up between the Pentagon and the Potomac River. Farrell noticed that the terrorists' plane had flown over Arlington Cemetery to reach the Pentagon.

In Arlington lay the remains of heroes who had served their country, he says. The enemy passed "over them to strike at the heart of our military operations."

Often Farrell worked a 6 p.m. to 6 or 8 a.m. shift.

"When the sun came up, it shone on the cemetery," he says. "It was extremely touching to see the sun shining ... parallel from the heroes who died at the Pentagon."

He tells of the circle just outside the Pentagon's main gate and how people covered it with American flags and floral bouquets.

It looked like there were thousands of them.

Farrell volunteered for a week and spent most of his time cooking and serving food. The workers particularly liked his grilled cheese sandwiches.

He also heard stories -- some told directly to him and others told to the people with whom he traveled to Washington.

One that particularly touched him was of a man who was leading a line of people through the smoke and destruction in the Pentagon. Including him, there were six people in the line. They weaved their way through and, when he exited the building, he turned to see them. Only the person holding his hand was still there. The other five had been unable to keep going. They had let go ... and died.

In addition to his volunteerism, Farrell shares this with the Fryes: the desire to acknowledge others who were playing a role, whether that role was driving, cooking, serving meals or searching for the dead.

"I have a lot of respect for the folks in law enforcement for what they did," he says. "They were very professional and treated the remains with dignity."

R.M. Grady of Saulston, who drove a Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle and delivered meals to rescue and supply workers in New York and New Jersey, notes the work of others, too. He and the Fryes were impressed with the Southern Baptist Convention and how much its members did.

Grady went to New York about a month after the attacks. Instead of driving in, he flew. As the plane circled over New York, he saw the multitude of buildings ... and a large hole where the World Trade Center had been.

He appreciated the kindness of the New Yorkers he encountered, and tells of a group of young people -- high school and college age -- who stood along the streets and held thank-you signs as he and fellow Red Cross volunteers went by.

"They'd wave at you," he says. "It made you feel good ... and sad, too."

The massive loss of life struck Grady, as did the absence of the Twin Towers he had seen on the occasions he'd been in New York.

And now another Sept. 11 dawns. Looking back and at the present day, Farrell says he has "a great concern that this is a way of life for our country now. We're at war. ... It's a sad thing. We've lost our sense of security."

Farrell, who for 28 years served as a Rosewood volunteer firefighter, says he has a deeper pride for his country and its people.

And he has a hope: that we will never forget the sacrifices of those who died. They were people like us, going about their daily lives.

"We must stay ever vigilant," he says. "We have a history in this country of having short memories. We need to learn from the past."

Part of what we may be forgetting is how important it is that we be there for each other.

"I hope people will keep seeing the spirit of 9-11: helping and taking care of each other," he says. "I'm afraid we've lost some of it."