By Hannah Schultz, Features Editor
For many of us, Sept. 11 will be just another Friday, and like the weeks before, it will be filled with classes and work and friends. We were too young to remember the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, and the palpable terror of that day. Or, if we do, it’s mostly a blur of anxious adults and early dismissal from grade-school. All we feel are the aftershocks. We can see how an American people banded together to overcome one of the darkest days in our history. We can reflect on how Asbury, however removed it may seem, played its role in uniting strangers in the face of this horrific event fourteen years ago.
Interviews originally found in The Ambassador vol. 29 from Spring 2002.
Artie VanWhy, Asbury class of 1976, was working at a law firm less than a block away from the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 when the first plane hit.
“The building shook, and we heard something—to me it sounded like something overhead, in our building. It wasn’t just a plane. It was a huge black, gaping hole with flames and smoke. I just stood there, thinking, “This is bad; there’s a fire, but they’re going to put it out and, it’s going to be OK.” Then I saw the first person jump.
When [the second plane] hit, we started running for our lives. “God save us all,” I said out loud. At one point I fell, and people started stepping on me. I got up, and I stepped on someone else. I thought how selfish I was, only thinking of saving myself.
At some point we were told to start moving north. I must have been 10 to 15 blocks away when the first building collapsed. Everyone thought it was an explosion and started running. I looked behind me and saw a wall of debris and dust and smoke coming toward us. I said another prayer.
Walking home, after the towers had collapsed, the city was still. We were all just like zombies.”
Bob Webster, who graduated from Asbury in the class of 1981, was a chaplain for the Salvation Army at Ground Zero. He wrote the following on Sept. 30.
“Returned to Ground Zero. I was serving hot chocolate to the FDNY Chief and he asked that I not leave, as I would soon be needed to assist with the recovery of two of his fallen firefighters. The deputy chief gave me an American flag to cover the bodies.
When I went up on the hill, the seven-story-tall pile of rubble, it smelled unbelievably horrible—a mixture of diesel fuel, concrete dust and decaying remains. It was very treacherous; the steel that surrounded us was glowing red. Everywhere was this thick, choking dust cloud.
When I arrived there, they had unearthed the remains of the firefighters, and they were surrounding them, looking for me to conduct an impromptu memorial service on the scene. I led the team in prayer for the families of the fallen heroes and their fellow firefighters. It was an honor I will never forget.
At the completion of the prayer, the men and women saluted their friends’ bodies and proceeded to line up and down the hill at attention, handing the stokes basket to one another. Every worker—construction worker, firefighter, police personnel, everyone who was there—stopped and lined up on both sides of the bodies as we walked down the hill. They stood at attention and saluted as we walked by.”
Later on, Webster reflected on the impact of 9/11 on his life, using the experience to grow closer to God and appreciate what really matters in life.
“I think often about what they’re doing there, what I did there. It hasn’t been debilitating, but it sure has slowed me down and caused me to think of life in a different light. All of the things that go on around us, that we think are so important, are really not as important as the relationships we have with family and friends, who can be gone in a moment.
I think the easiest way of helping me to put it all into focus is that God told us in John 16:33 that we’re going to experience these types of tribulations, “but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” So my faith is in the fact that God is in control, and in spite of all of these circumstances, I have to trust in Him each and every day for who He is and for what I’m doing in my life. So I try to come before Him every day—I’ve learned it’s a day-to-day existence in my faith. I go before the Lord for forgiveness for the things I’ve done I’m not happy about, seeking to be more like Him each and every day of my life.”