New York visit brings flood of memories for Tahoe pastor
With today’s opening of Oliver Stone’s movie “World Trade Center” that portrays the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City, many no doubt will reflect on their memories of that horrendous day.
For South Lake Tahoe pastor Jerry Foster who was in Manhattan two weeks ago, a walk around the perimeter where the World Trade Center once stood brought back memories of what he did following the worst attack ever on American soil.
In December 2001, the Calvary Chapel minister and South Lake Tahoe law enforcement chaplain led a team of volunteers to New York for the recovery effort. There, Foster’s group joined hundreds of clergy members who provided counsel, comfort and prayers to Ground Zero workers as well as families of those who died.
He described his recent visit to Ground Zero as a “surreal and very emotional” experience that didn’t hit him until after he had walked a couple blocks away from the site.
Ground Zero remains empty with nothing yet built at the site, though plans are in the works to build a memorial tower. He remembers seeing the churches that he and other volunteers worked out of. Once cramped with equipment, tables of food and scores of recovery workers, the churches now are without any hint of what happened in the weeks and months following the attacks, he said.
That all changed a few blocks away from Ground Zero.
“I was walking down Times Square and I saw this picture from a street vendor. It was a picture of a piece of wreckage. That’s where it became emotional for me. It took me right back.”
That picture was actually a now-famous print of a painting the vendor was selling. It was the depiction of firefighters and police officers gathered around steel girder in the form of a cross that came to be a part of the World Trade Center wreckage.
“I saw it and that’s when I started remembering all the families there and all the police and firefighters and all the recovery workers working,” Foster said. “Seeing the picture brought it all back.”
He would buy the print and another print – that of the New York City skyline with the World Trade Center – from the vendor.
Opening today nationwide and at South Lake Tahoe, the movie “World Trade Center” has drawn positive reviews. Foster said he plans to see it and hopes it will resonate with Americans.
“It’s important to remember what happened. Maybe this will be the movie that puts it in our minds and keeps it in our consciousness,” he said.
The South Shore team who made the December 2001 trip was made up of Foster and his wife, Diana, John Burruel, Greg Cook and Jamie Villescas, all members of Calvary Chapel, and Don Aufdenkemp and Rich Lammay of High Sierra Fellowship in Carson City. The team went on behalf of Billy Graham Ministers, the American Red Cross and Harvest Christian Fellowship.
A similar group led by Foster was deployed last year to evacuation efforts following Hurricane Katrina. Foster worked alongside aide workers from around the country in Houston, Texas. Both events remain etched, permanently, in Foster’s psyche.
“Katrina was overwhelming. But New York was overwhelming trauma. Day after day there were people standing there who lost someone,” he said. “Day after day, they waited in the observation decks. You’d encourage them. Pray for them and be there for them. The scope of it was overwhelming.”
Each day the Tahoe contingent was deployed to serve at different locations around Manhattan. The team was sent to serve food to the police and others working at Ground Zero. They also were sent to work at the Salvation Army Toy Shop, a temporary store open to anyone who was directly affected by the terrorist attacks.
At the chapel the team served food and talked with the crews, offering encouragement and counsel to people who needed and wanted to talk. At the time, Foster joined hundreds of other representatives from cities across the nation in placing police and fire department patches on a memorial next to the St. Joseph’s Chapel, a small Catholic church where he and other volunteers worked.
At the memorial were patches from the South Lake Tahoe police and fire departments as well as the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office. The patches are now included as part of a larger memorial near Ground Zero.