Editor’s note: Ten years ago Father Mike McCullough, LAPD Chaplain, was sent by the L.A Police Memorial Foundation to respond to a request by the New York/New Jersey Port Authority Police to engage in critical incident counseling following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. From Oct. 2-7, “it was my privilege,” he says, to be part of a team of eight police peer counselors and two chaplains working with the NYPD, NYFD and the Port Authority Police. Three of those days he spent at “Ground Hero.” The following poem represents what he saw and witnessed during those six days. GROUND HERO Life goes on The beat goes on New Yorkers are resilient. It would take a lot more Than a few yellow weasels To break their backs. The cops are tough, like their winters, But they break into a smile In a heartbeat “How aw ya?” they say with a big grin Though their eyes Tell another story, Betray exhaustion Marrow-bone sorrow. Our reception is magnanimous Our contribution so miniscule Yet “Better one candle to light Than the darkness to curse.” Perhaps it made a difference to one star fish! Ground Zero Became Ground Hero Became Cement and glass that Became Volcanic pumice ash Grist for the teeth of the grinding mill Flesh and metal all churned Through the same grinder Still-red steel Dripping blood-molten liquid 2000-3000 degrees 22 days later. (I never thought of steel as combustion material) Applied water Turning to steam Sulfur fumes Bowels of hell. I somehow Confused Ruminated as to how These uniformed heroes Died in vain. Everyone knows —’Cause we’ve heard it over and over again —“Determined terrorists use a calculated technique . . . Staged an event Followed by a second event Designed to execute as many Public safety personnel as possible.” “How could these heroes of America Not think of that?” I asked myself over and over. Then Arriving at curbside Outside JFK airport in New York A port authority sergeant Made it all make sense: “You know, 30,000 got out alive!” Now, I understand. The atrocity of the slaughter Of innocent life The sacrilege of satan’s servants Doing this in the name of Allah Has been accomplished. The only sacrilege that remains Would be for us to forget What these public servants did To save so many. In 106 minutes 410 public servants purchased with their lives The safe escape of Thousands of John and Jane Q. citizens Traded death for lives And asked their own families to sign the contract: 350 firefighters and EMTs37 port authority police 23 New York City police; For each one who died, 73 people got out Owe their lives. What did I hear? “Since this happened, I don’t feel like I’m praying.” “I’m just going through the motions.” “I feel like a hypocrite.” The firefighter Remembering the rain of body parts And bodies Falling from the sky As he tried to lead his three brothers to safety. All three brothers died. A Jewish doctor Who’s still having trouble sleeping Because he sees images Related to him By peace officers Of WTC ground floor windows Spatter-covered with blood And manikin-looking body parts That aren’t manikins. Brutal images Witnessed second-hand Inducing traumatic stress Compassion fatigue Vicarious overload. A New York police chaplain, Speaking as worn-out local clergy Has perhaps said it all: “We may need to reestablish our identity Spirituality wise.” And more And more. 10/06/01 found body 2200-2300 hours FDNY Carle Molinari. Out of a tiny opening in One of the 5- to 10-story-high mounds of Girder-twisted rubble “Ground Zero” rescue crew Carefully extracts the smoldering Steaming remains of One of their own. LAPD chaplain Dave, The Salvation Army chaplain And myself Form up and lead The procession of six Carrying the body bag Of holy remains Draped in Ol’ Glory. Three blocks the procession winds Past saluting, Red-eyed, Dust-covered Fire and police personnel Past emergency responders From 50 jurisdictions Who all stand tall Proud and saluting As if this were a Marine Coming home from Iwo Until we reach the temporary morgue Where amidst all the solemnity Our tired bodies can muster We pray for his soul to rest And for his family’s comfort. The coroners do their Work quickly Unzipping and rezipping the body bag Long enough to confirm His identity From his uniform and Gear markings. I will never listen to the Scripture passage The same again Where Lazarus laid three days in The tomb and there was a stench. Our brother’s body laid 26 days in the tomb. And now it is my profound privilege To pray the blessing over his body. [I am told he is Italian and that ICan assume he is Catholic and so:] “May the God of all consolation Bless you in every way And grant you hope all the days of your life. Amen. May God restore you to health And grant you salvation. Amen. May God fill your heart with peace And lead you to eternal life. Amen. May Almighty God bless you The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Someone barks, “Uniformed personnel ... pre-sent arms!” And we all salute. “Por-ter ... arms!” 6 NYPD motors on Harleys Honor guard the ambulance to Bellevue. 80 firerigs and ambulances destroyed Along with names like Wooley, Guadalupe, Ragalia, Santora, Gill, Angelini, O’Callaghan, Lynch, Oitice, Haub, Tip and Brennan Engine 54 And the 4 truck. 10,000 orphans. The parking garage Orange spray painted “God’s house” By a fire captain Where three huge Perfectly proportioned I-beam crosses Were discovered. An FDNY EMT who helped Carry the body of NYC fire chaplain Father Mychal Judge. After a deep conversation Tears and hugs exchanged Removes his FDNY collar pin and Attaches it to my police jacket Next to my right collar chaplain insignia. I’ve never seen a face Of greater pain, sadness Fatigue, desolation. God shed his grace on thee, brother. I made two pilgrimages to St. Peter’s Church, The Franciscan parish of Father Mychal. Early morning hours, No one there, Knelt and prayed at the altar Where they had laid his limp Body, Covered it with a sheet, And a priestly stole And his fireman’s badge. When I arrived, A large flag over the altar Was his temporary epitaph. His was the way to die. As operation “Enduring Freedom” begins, A B-52 bears the painted words on the nose “NYPD — we remember.” During the Port Authority Police Memorial service The governor was there and the mayor And thousands As the names of the 744 Scrolled I closed my eyes To see a round-face Fully-bearded With long, bushy, curly hair Wearing NYPD cap and uniform. As the face faded I opened my eyes. At one of the last names, A solitary voice stabbed the heart Of the Madison Square Garden silence; “M y b a b y!” With all the terror and loss Of Rachel weeping for her children. In the war that lies ahead, We must prepare ourselves To lose all material things And anyone we love... In conversations with 600 New Yorkers I met no one Who did not suffer A major loss — A treasured, cherished skyline, A home, Or beloved friend, A family member Or distant relative. Our band of ten was applauded at both JFK and Ontario airports As our captain announced us and our mission Over the plane public address before landing.For me, Rock hammer chipping away at Mount Rushmore; It was like that. I gave away about 400 Archangel Michael medals And a few of St. Florian, Catholic patrons of cops and firefighters And elicited many a smile. That was my joy. In the Episcopal church of Saint Paul Built in the 1760s Where George Washington Maintained a pew in the 1790s Now a giant comfort station at virtual Ground Zero His pew is a foot care station. Imagine that — A bit ironic in light Of the winter at Valley Forge, Physical feet and bodies Hearts and souls must Be cared for As we spend ourselves Living the motto, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” [Please pray with me:] Wonder counselor God of the hurting Father of helpers. We prostrate ourselves before you We beg your mercy For our brothers and sisters in New York We plead for your wisdom, your strength As we reach out to others in pain. We humbly ask your forgiveness For the times we neglected to praise you. Show us the way To walk unaccustomed paths. For it is you who teach us, In the inmost recesses of our hearts, How to: Console the widow, Embrace the orphan, Shelter the homeless Listen with kindness Stand erect in persecution. You wept when the stench of death was strong And then raised us to new levels of life. Oh God, in our time of national crisis May each of us bring consolation to others As you have brought it to us. Amen. Post Script: This poem was written Oct. 16, 2001, on the banks of the Sacramento River, nine days after I got home. The other chaplain on my team committed suicide in April of 2008. This experience was the most moving incident of my 38 years in Law Enforcement Ministry. Fr. Mike McCullough, LAPD Chaplain, will be honored as a Distinguished Alumni of St. John's Seminary on Sept. 25. {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2011/0923/mccullough/{/gallery}