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Okla. chaplains join memorial service for fallen NYC police, fire heroes

NEW YORK CITY (BP)–Oklahoma City police chaplain Jack Poe and Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma chaplaincy specialist Leslie Sias helped lead a solemn memorial service Sept. 20 to the fallen police officers, firefighters and Port Authority officers who lost their lives trying to save others when the World Trade Center was attacked by terrorists Sept. 11.

Appropriately, the service, which was attended by thousands of the fallen heroes’ comrades, was held near the city’s memorial to its police officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

Twenty-three police officers, 37 Port Authority officers and more than 330 firefighters lost their lives in the tragedy, along with one New Jersey firefighter, one FBI agent, one Secret Service agent and two emergency medical technicians. Photographs of the fallen New York City officers were displayed in large frames at the site, along with a framed list of the firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Poe, who led chaplaincy efforts following the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, was asked to speak to those in attendance. Hastily scribbling a few notes and drawing upon his memories of that fateful spring day in his hometown, he delivered the following comments:

“On Sept. 11, your city took center stage as the world witnessed an act of war launched against this great nation.

“We are standing on the memorial site that contains the names of officers of the New York City Police Department who have lost their lives in the line of duty. I have watched closely, and listened carefully, as many officers have come and touched a special name on this granite wall. Each officer recalls a special memory they hold close to their heart of that special person. Memory is good, for without memory there is no healing.

“Behind us in the harbor stands the Statue of Liberty. Her torch has never shone as bright as it has these past days, as she stands guard over this rescue and recovery operation. She has a message for all who think our nation is weak and divided. We are not. From coast to coast, and from border to border, the American people stand shoulder to shoulder united and strong, with a steadfast resolve to see you through.

“This was not just an attack on a city or a nation. It was an assault on humanity. The human spirit though blindsided, did not break. What was intended to bring us down has instead awakened a sleeping giant. In 1 John 4:4, we are reminded that greater is the spirit of God in us than the evil that is in the world.

“You could have given up, but that was never a choice. Without regard to their own personal safety, your peers in the police and fire services responded to move others from harm’s way. The cost was high, and we are gathered here now to honor them. No greater love has a man than that he lay down his life for a friend (John 15:13).

“We in Oklahoma City know firsthand your pain and loss. Not only are our prayers and thoughts with you, but also the thoughts and prayers of all Americans. New York City is now not just a name on a map. It is a place in the hearts of the American people.

“At a memorial service held to honor the officers of the Muncie (Ind.) Police Department who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, Ray Boltz, a songwriter, heard me share my experiences from the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. In that speech I said, ‘We must never forget the great price paid every day by those in public safety, who make the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom and safety.’ Inspired by that service, Boltz wrote the song, ‘Fallen but not forgotten.’

“Let me close with these words from that song. ‘Fallen, but not forgotten. These are the heroes that stand so tall, and forever we will remember with glory and honor they gave their all.’

“May God bless our fallen heroes. May God bless America!”

Sias, also a chaplain with the 507th Air Refueling Wing, an Air Force Reserve unit, was asked to close the ceremony with prayer. Sias’ unit has been called to “voluntary” active duty in the wake of the terrorist attack.

Sias prayed for the rescue workers and that God would bring comfort to their families as the rescue personnel toiled in the debris, and he prayed that the Lord would restore the broken hearts of the families of the victims.

While in New York, Poe and Sias worked diligently to see that about 10,000 teddy bears and other stuffed animals from the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation were received and distributed to rescue workers. “These bears were some that were sent to Oklahoma City after the Murrah Building was bombed, and many of them hung on the fence that surrounded the site in the months after that tragedy,” Poe said. “They were cleaned up and placed in storage; now they have been sent on to help comfort those victimized by this terrorist attack against America. Many of the bears we sent came from New York originally.”

The bears were intended to be given to firefighters, police officers and others who helped in the rescue and recovery effort to take home to their children, Poe said.

Poe and Sias helped unload 485 boxes of bears at school district 75, which served as the main distribution point for the stuffed animals.

“Officers with New York City police precincts 1 and 6 picked up some of the bears, some emergency medical services personnel came by and got some in an ambulance and we had someone take more bears to local area firehouses,” Sias said. “We also took some down to the command post near ground zero, and delivered some to the U.S.N.S. Comfort, a hospital ship that provided a place of rest for weary rescuers to get away from the site for a short while.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: SILENT TESTIMONY and CHAPLAINS & GROUND ZERO.

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  • Bob Nigh