I was a first responder (fire, police, EMT) on 9/11
At the time I was a Law Enforcement Officer (Police Chief, Baraboo, WI), and was on-duty at City Hall. I was in total disbelief that this was happening in the USA. As it unfolded thru the day, it was the only conversation had around town ... it impacted every citizen, young & old. Watching it unfold - angered me so. How did we (as a Country) allow this to happen on US soil? It pained me so, knowing the response that Emergency Services at the scene was going through. Only later would we learn of the huge loss of life of their fellow Police & Fire personnel. Fellow Officers & staff were shaken by the events. Throughout the day not only did the events repeat themselves on TV and radio ... but in the Citizen's eyes and words - there was such pain in their daily lives over this event. I ended my day shift duties in the late afternoon that day, consoled our staff the best I could and retired to my home. There I found my family in as much of a shock as could be expected. But hours later the real impact would come .... it was just about dusk, when I received a call from one of my Officers. They called to tell me that there was some kind of protest or march taking place on our Courthouse lawn ... they were asking what to do. I verbally responded that I would get changed and be right down. It only took me a few moments to arrive on the Square downtown - and as reported, there was a large crowd assembled on the Courthouse lawn, with some folks marching around the block (on the sidewalk). As I went to one of our Officers, seen on the Courthouse lawn, I repeatedly came in contact with citizens I know from numerous contacts over the years. People were trying to console each other - telling them all will be alright. A mild chant of 'USA - USA' could be heard from those walking around the block carrying candles. But I was trying to get a grip of what this crowd was trying to accomplish. Some seemed angered, while confused as to what tomorrow will bring. Others held tears in their eyes - seeking comfort from the crowd. I tried to console as many individuals as I could, but also searched for my own answers. My more immediate matter to address is what this is doing to my community and it's citizens. At one point - a citizen handed me a microphone and asked if I would speak to the crowd assembled in front of the Courthouse. I took the microphone and slowly walked to the top of the steps, turning to face the citizens - there were hundred gathered there. It was getting dark - but in the light of their candles people could be seen wiping tears away, some clearly crying from what had happened that day. I had been a Police Officer here for more than 30+ years, I had been in some very stressful incidents, and had prior needed to respond to citizen inquiries without all the facts known yet ... but this event was far beyond all that. I am not sure where the words of comfort came from within me, but they came out. But at the earliest words - a young girl standing in the front row at the bottom of the steps, came walking up to me. I stopped speaking as she neared and looked into her eyes ... she too was shaken. But she had a message that will forever be held in my heart. That young girl (12-14 yrs?) reached out to me with her hand, stating ... "Chief, you need a candle too! Here take mine." She placed the lit candle in my hand, and then returned to the bottom of the steps. That simple act by that girl - calmed everything within me. My words were briefly paused, but when I continued to speak - there was more life & direction in them. That night, Baraboo became a stronger community,, we pulled harder as 'a team' to get through the coming days. But as I spoke to our citizens ... the pain within me for these citizens spilled out in my words and emotions. A gentle rain began ... but everyone stood there and got drenched. People were seen protecting their candles, as I did mine. Few people knew, but I cried while I spoke to our community. I have always said the Good Lord sent that rain to cover my public tears that night. At the conclusion of the event, I walked down to the young girl and her parents. I offered the candle back to her and Thanked her for loaning me her candle. One year later ... although we will never get over 9/11, at that first Anniversary - we had a better understanding of the events, could mourn the huge losses - but really come together as a Community to stand together. The Community was hosting an evening outdoor event at the College in our City. Several of the area City Officials were being asked to speak. This time I had adequate time to prepare a speech for the event. When I walked to the stage and looked over the crowd of citizens across the campus lawn ... oddly, there stood that young girl near the front row. I began my speech from my notes, but as I looked up and saw that young girl standing there ... I paused. Then called out to her parents, asking if she could join my on stage. They motioned her to come forward once again. She joined me on stage and stood next to me for my speech. I told her and the crowd assembled - of the impact she and that simple candle had that night. Adding that it brought tears to my eyes, as I looked at the pain and suffering in our citizens eyes. I then asked of the crowd ... 'How many recall it raining?' Many acknowledged by shaking their heads. I then told them of the Good Lord's means of wiping away those tears many of us had, and helping us all get through the events of 9/11 ... as well how the kindness expressed by this young lady that evening, also helped us begin to heal.
I have always been a person that would go out of their way to help another, that has not diminished at all. In fact if anything it has caused me to be more giving & helping of others. My love & respect of Emergency Service personnel and their efforts is something that I stand ready to help - whether it be in labor or financial needs. Saying that, I am become more & more aware that my age & physical condition is causing me some limitations there. But I push those to the limits and try to instill others to carry on where I have to stop. It is clear that my children and grand-children will carry that load in the years to come. They have Grandpa's desire to help others too.
If the Lord allows, I should make the majority of that 20 year challenge! I am currently, and will continue, to be on the City's 'Police & Fire Commission' to help guide the future of these agencies. I am an active member of the local VFW (Greenwood Memorial Post 987) and assist in a variety of community functions. I annually obtain the vehicles & wagons for our Veterans to use for City Parades. I always carry US Flags with me and when I spot a tattered one (private home or business), I am never too shy not to stop and offer to replace it at no charge. We then host a Flag Retirement program in the community, to put all those unserviceable Flags to final rest. I am a member of the Honor Guard, to insure that our area Veterans get a proper burial.
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