Since the day of the catastrophe, the university has held a memorial service in Walton Chapel for the lives lost in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“The chapel was filled with faculty, staff and students,” George Loutherback said of the original 2001 service at the opening of Friday’s chapel. “Our lives were changed that day. We will not forget those families that lost loved ones, or those people that lost their lives.”
Tom Bowen was the guest speaker for this year’s Friday service. Bowen was one of the first New York firefighters to respond to the attacks on the World Trade Center.
After doing what he could that first day, Bowen joined up with the FEMA Urban Search and Rescue team, for which he had received training a few years previously.
“Everything that happened those first few days – the initial attack, the threat of another strike, the collapse of the New York command center – none of that impacted our willingness to jump in and help out and do everything we could,” Bowen said.
Bowen’s talk was accompanied with a slideshow depicting some of the massive destruction that accompanied the collapse of the Twin Towers.
Cars were covered in dirt and grime, dust was billowing down the streets in overwhelming clouds, and people were frantically seeking some sort of shelter.
But Bowen said he didn’t want to use the photos and memories to upset anyone.
“We are not here to relive a difficult day,” he said. “I’m here to praise God for his sovereignty in helping us get through the tragedy of that day.”
Many of the photos were heart wrenching, however. One showed Spray-painted tagging of pieces of rubble to mark where bodies were located because “so many people died that day that we didn’t have time to stop and dig them out because the dogs were already moving on to the next body,” Bowen said.
One photo showed an image that haunted Bowen for years after the disaster. The photograph looked simple; a staircase had fallen over and collapsed into the ground. Then Bowen explained the story behind the image.
“When we found this staircase, we realized it had pushed into the ground like an accordion, and that it had run several stories up,” he said. “As we opened it up, we … we found people. People that had been on the staircase when it was pushed into the ground. One of them was a fireman who had gone into the building to help people get out.
“His coffin was the one this flag was covering,” he said, gesturing toward the flag he had brought with him, the one presented to him by President George W. Bush.
“More than a year later, I began to have really strange dreams about that staircase,” Bowen said. “I had nightmares that we would be unfolding it and I’d find my wife and child inside. I would wake up from that, and my heart would be pounding so hard that I thought I’d go into cardiac arrest.”
Bowen explained that, as the nightmares became more frequent, he began staying awake longer and longer into the night, only taking short naps so he wouldn’t dream as often.
“My choices began to get very bad, and it began affecting my family,” he said.
A friend eventually intervened, however, and showed Bowen he wasn’t allowing God to help him and take some of his burden.
“You put on the tools of the trade and do your job,” Bowen said. “You have to have your tools and use them and practice with them and take them to battle. I realized in my life I was in a battle, and I wasn’t using my tools.
“Instead of turning to God and asking him for help, my first reaction – pardon my candor – was to bitch and complain. God used prayer to shake me up and get me in line with himself.”
Bowen closed his service with a message to the students, faculty and staff gathered in the chapel.
“If you are a believer, some of the most important tools you can use are worship and prayer. These tools can prepare and season your heart and make it tender.”
Unrolling a coil of a fire hose, Bowen explained one of the first things firefighters are taught.
“When you go into a building holding onto the fire hose, you never let go. It’s because the hose is your life line; if the call comes to get out of the building, all you have to do is turn around and follow it to the exit.
“For us, for Christians, Christ is our lifeline, the ultimate tool of our trade.”