I will never be the same. Saturday, Oct. 20, 2001 was such a beautiful fall day in Connecticut. I was escorted, by police officers, into Ground Zero in NY. My objective was to raise spirits, help police officers, who traveled to NY from all over the country, hand out flyers that offered stress management counseling thru an organization called POPPA (Police Organization Providing Peer Assistance) and hand out guardian angel pins. The pins were donated by Treasures and Trinkets, Inc. of Manchester, CT and assembled by volunteers and the 8th District Fire Department of Manchester. The Guardian Angel Pins were personally delivered to the POPPA headquarters by Officer Bernie Hallums of the Manchester, CT Police Department. Officer Hallums has been an angel himself, traveling into the city to volunteer his time almost every week since Sept. 11th. We gathered at POPPA Headquarters in NY, a few blocks from Ground Zero. We got to know each other a little bit, then we were briefed by POPPA Director William Genet on what our mission was when we finally entered the areas that were blocked off. We walked a few blocks then rounded a corner to see many people standing on the sidewalks, in utter silence. Tears in their eyes, bowing and shaking their heads, some taking pictures. We entered the first barricade and walked down the road to the second check point, where everyone had to provide ID. It looked like a war zone and was treated as such. The sullen faces, sunken eyes, there is no way to truly prepare for that. Our fellow brothers and sisters, deeply hurting inside. We began our mission on the outer perimeters of Ground Zero. We split up into two groups and started our journey down the soot and dirt covered roads. Massive trucks were constantly passing us, carry out the debree and putting it in a holding area where forensics people would sift thru it in an attempt to locate body parts. The smell in the air was indescribable. We offered pamphlets that provided information about where police officers could go for stress management and give each and every person a guardian angel pin. We touched shoulders, hugged, shook hands, offered some cheer and any assistance that they may need. I even told several fellas to call their mothers! The smiles on their faces when they were handed a guardian angel pin, was priceless! We spent a few hours, circling inward toward the core of the devastation. Then finally, I stood where once there was a highway, in front of the ruins of the World Trade Center.....viewing a sea of hard hats, monstrous cranes, trucks, plows, emergency workers, military patrol, police officers, fire fighters, construction workers......and mangled buildings. Office buildings around the ruins of the WTC, had the fronts completely blown off...revealing office spaces. Steel beams that had blown off the WTC, pierced surrounding buildings. The sad eyes that gazed into mine as I approached with a smile on my face and a prayer in my heart, seemingly became just a hint brighter when I patted them on the back to let them know people really care about what is going on in their city. I shook so many hands of people who greatly appreciated our presence. I spent some time at the morgue, where the men thought that they would have no work, but on Sunday, bodies were pulled from the rubble.
I visited the memorial for the police and firefighters, once vibrant people, just like you and me, who died in the line of duty. I visited the memorial for all of the victims and read a letter from a little boy that said "Daddy, I wish you would come home, but if you can't, that's ok, I know that you are in heaven." I finally sat down and cried, almost in unison with the sounds of the heavy equipment waffling thru the air.
Into the bowels of hell on earth, I emerged so very humble and thankful for those who care about and love me. Our lives have been changed forever. The souls of the dead, their families, the hundreds of people working around the clock to clean up the devastation, the EMT's and the counselors who are at the ready to talk and assist anyone, the Military standing guard, the Firefighters on alert and the POPPA Teams who visit the site everyday. I pray hard for these people and I ask that you do the same. Just pray. Pray for our country and the people who lead us. Pray for resolve and peace. Hug someone everyday, doesn't matter who, just hug them. Sheila A. Van Dyke