WADSWORTH — The city was front and center in lending a hand just days after the New York City attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Salvation Army majors Tom and Debbie Grace and volunteer Bill Simmons spent part of early October 2001 in New York assisting with food and beverage distributions. Tom Grace also provided spiritual counsel to firefighters, steelworkers, medical personnel, police and volunteers during the nine-day tour.
“A lot of these guys were just broken,” Tom Grace recalled. “They didn’t know how to express what they were going through, but you could see it.”
The seven-person team from Wadsworth was organized in three days by Grace and the Salvation Army’s Cleveland headquarters. Other volunteers from the Salvation Army were Rick Shaw, Esther Huff, Phil Stone and Charlie Lesher.
“Everybody I asked to go said ‘yes,’” said Tom Grace, who acknowledged he was motivated to help by his anger following the attacks.
“I wanted to do something because of who did it and the loss of life,” he said. “It was a senseless act.”
About 3,000 victims died in the attacks at the World Trade Center.
In addition to the on-the-ground help, Wadsworth sent a tractor-trailer to ground zero that contained medical and cleaning supplies, food, toiletries, blankets and ladders for responders and needy New York residents, Tom Grace said.
He explained the sounds and smells after the attacks provide a somber recollection of what his nine days in New York were like. The odor of smoke and ash, along with burning rubble and debris, were like a “scent of death.”
“I will smell something today that reminds me of that smell. And it takes me back there,” he said.
When a body was recovered within the crumbled buildings, Tom Grace said a loud horn would blast to gain attention and to allow people to pay their respects.
Debbie Grace said the times a body was discovered affected her the most.
“When a body was brought out, you stopped what you were doing, stood at attention and respected the loss of life,” she said.
Added Tom Grace: “There has never been a time I was more proud to be an American. I became more of a patriot because of this.”
Debbie Grace, who worked at a food station, noted the Wadsworth group was proud and honored to go to New York. Her station was located one block from “the pit,” also known as ground zero.
“We cared enough, we came and we worked,” she said. “It felt good to do something so meaningful.”
Bob Simmons, who helped staff a hydration station, agreed. He provided water, Gatorade, coffee and granola bars to the attacks responders.
“It was an opportunity to serve at a great time of need,” said Simmons, who added his post was the closest of its kind to “the pit.”
“I was proud to be able to do it,” he added.
Contact Steve Grazier at (330) 721-4012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.