Ground Zero: One Year Later

By Hafner, Ned | Corrections Today, April 2003 | Go to article overview

Ground Zero: One Year Later


Hafner, Ned, Corrections Today


During the first week of December 2001, I had the privilege of being a volunteer in New York City at the World Trade Center disaster. I was given this opportunity under the auspices of the Delta Airlines Disaster Team and the Salvation Army of Greater New York. The group of volunteers with which I was associated consisted of 12 people, comprised largely from the ranks of Delta Airlines employees. These groups were broken up into two squads.

From Oct. 11 to Oct. 13, 2002, a reunion of our group took place in New York City. We stayed at a hotel located on 63rd Street and Broadway, just a couple blocks from the YMCA that was our housing site the year before; Most of the former participants attended the reunion, but this time, some chose to bring their spouses and/or family members along to meet the others.

The first event began Friday evening at the Empire Hotel in Manhattan, where an "appreciation gathering" took place, during which each of the two Delta Airline coordinators recalled our experiences of a year ago. Everyone who served as a volunteer received a plaque commemorating his or her efforts, along with a few kind words about our involvement.

Afterward, time was set aside for everyone to socialize and get to know one another in a more pleasant environment. We had now become a family that was created under very adverse conditions.

The next morning, everyone walked two blocks to the cafeteria located at the YMCA. This was a somber occasion, recalling one year earlier, when we ate our morning meal there each day. We sat at the tables and enjoyed being together once again. This was a group of people who, until a year ago, had never known one another.

As I ate my breakfast, I gazed around the room. All the women were nicely dressed, had their hair appropriately styled, and wore nail polish and makeup. The men were well-groomed and clean-shaven. This was very different from the year before, when we were all dressed in sweat-shirts, jeans, boots, hard hats and a variety of protective gear that stayed dirty most of the time. And unlike the last visit, everyone looked well-rested.

Later in the morning, we returned to the area where the Twin Towers once stood. It was there that the Salvation Army's incident commander during the rescue and recovery operation, Maj. George Polarek, met us. We gathered in a parking lot that one year earlier, had been the site of a large tent that was used as a place of rest, relaxation, nourishment and a variety of other services for all the Ground Zero workers. It was now gone and the area was transformed back to its original function as a parking lot. This scene brought everything back into focus. The group that was almost in a party-like atmosphere the night before had shifted into a far more somber mood.

We then headed to a building adjacent to Ground Zero. As we entered, I recalled seeing this building severely damaged the year before. It was now renovated and again occupied by an army of office workers.

Polarek conducted a short memorial ceremony and allowed those who desired to say a few words. Several individuals elected to speak, causing most of us to choke back tears recalling memories of what we had seen. The experience we all shared a year earlier was again fresh in our minds.

Once the ceremonial portion of the program ended, we moved out of the building and walked the area surrounding Ground Zero. The constant drizzle of rain served only to fuel the dismal tone that permeated our group.

As we walked, we noticed landmarks and buildings that we had observed during our first visit. We pointed out buildings that still stood across the street from the pit. Some remained in disrepair. The shrouds were still in place on several buildings and portions of other buildings were still missing. …

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