Close to fifteen years ago, millions of people watched the horror unfold on their television screens on the morning of September 11, 2001 when four airplanes were hijacked by 19 al-Qaeda terrorists and subsequently crashed in DC, New York, and Pennsylvania. We were overcome with shock and dismay for the victims, the people in those areas, the families and loved ones of those who would perish that day, and for our country.
The events of that tragic day serve as a reminder of the dangers of the world but also highlight the goodness of hundreds of ordinary citizens who, along with first responders, took heroic actions to save innocent lives. All of them deserve to be remembered and admired for their work.
Funeral directors played an important role during this difficult time. In the aftermath of the attacks, funeral service professionals helped contact victims’ families, make funeral arrangements, and hold memorial services. They worked closely with families to help them find a way to move forward in search of a hopeful future.
Here are a few of their stories:
- William Crawshaw, former owner of Crawshaw Funeral Home in Murphysboro, IL, worked with the federal Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team for three weeks identifying and processing bodies and meeting families who lost their loved ones in the attack.
- Bob Shank of Witzler-Shank Funeral Home in Perrysburg, OH also worked with the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team along with his son, Bob Shank Jr. Mr. Shank worked to track down relatives of those killed at the World Trade Center, while his son went to Ground Zero to help set up the morgue and collect identification information.
- Wally Miller, who ran Miller Funeral Home in Somerset, PA with his father, set up a temporary morgue at the crash site of Flight 93 and sorted and catalogued human remains and personal effects. Mr. Miller also led a memorial service for the families of the victims killed in the crash.
- The experience of September 11, 2001 was so profound for Mr. Miller’s wife Arlene, that it inspired her to make a career change to funeral service. Arlene Miller quit her job as a chemist with PPG Industries and went back to school to become a funeral director.
Are there other funeral service professionals who helped during 9/11? We know there are.
I had the opportunity to go to New York for the first time back in March and visit Ground Zero and the 9/11 Memorial Museum. The National September 11 Memorial & Museum is an impressive memorial which has twin reflecting pools where the Twin Towers once stood. The names of each person who died in the 2001 and 1993 attacks are inscribed in the plates surrounding the pools. To stand at the location of the largest loss of life from a foreign attack on American soil is a surreal experience. The numerous exhibitions in the museum offer a collection of video footage, audio recordings, photographs, artifacts, and eye witness accounts that tell the story of 9/11. If traveling to New York City, stop by the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. You’ll be glad you did.
On this fifteenth anniversary of 9/11, may we remember the nearly 3,000 lives that were lost and reflect on the meaning and significance of this day. Let us also acknowledge the way in which funeral service professionals help in the midst of all kinds of tragedy. OGR is honored to work with so many wonderful, committed professionals.
By Diane Durbin
OGR Membership Manager