It was Sept. 11, 2001, just another ordinary Tuesday in America.
Then, at 7:46 a.m. CDT, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center between the 93rd and 99th floors, shocking the world.
Seventeen minutes later, United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower between the 77th and 85th floors.
And, as the world watched on TV, the South Tower collapsed at 8:59 a.m. and then the North Tower at 9:28 a.m.
At Bellevue Baptist Church in Owensboro, 13 people began loading vans to head to New York City to cook meals for the rescue workers they knew would be at the World Trade Center site.
Terry Delk was one of them, going on his first — and last — disaster relief mission.
It’s still hard to talk about 20 years later, he said recently.
“It affected me,” Delk said, pausing a bit. “My wife said I went into my own world when I came back. Last night, they were showing a video of the bucket brigade at Ground Zero on TV. It was hard to watch.”
He said, “I can watch the twin towers fall on TV. That was just a TV image for me. But I saw the bucket brigade and the care they gave the remains when they found them every day for a week. It’s part of me.”
The Bellevue members were in Manhattan for about a week.
“We arrived late Thursday at the training center in New Jersey and then, the next day, we went to Brooklyn, where we stayed,” Delk said. “We came back the following Friday.”
At night, they slept in a vacant Brooklyn jail.
Ground Zero“We were within two blocks of what they called Ground Zero (the area where the building fell),” he said. “That’s where we were set up. On Saturday or Sunday, we got passes to go into Ground Zero to hand out water, snacks and sandwiches. The people working in there didn’t want to stop to eat.”
Many of the people who worked at Ground Zero during the recovery of remains later suffered diseases ranging from sleep apnea to cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, respiratory disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression and anxiety.
“I’m not aware of any of our group having diseases related to being there,” Delk said. “We wore filtered masks most of the time. I don’t think we did at first. But then, we got them.”
“They were still doing the bucket brigade, moving debris out that way to search for remains, because they were afraid to bring in heavy equipment. Part of the buildings were still standing, and they were afraid heavy equipment would cause it to collapse.”
Delk saw New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani — “America’s Mayor,” they called him then — walking around the site.
“He was there almost every day,” he said. “I wasn’t in the right place to see President Bush when he came.
“The food was cooked in Brooklyn and taken down to Ground Zero in Red Cross vehicles for the first few days. And then, we went to sandwiches and snacks, because, unlike most disaster scenes, restaurants were open within three blocks. “Nobody wanted meals, just snacks. After a week, the Port Authority had a barge for sit-down dining on the river.
“We went to Little Italy one night for pizza. An armored vehicle came by and everyone was standing and applauding as it passed. Everybody was unified. And New York is supposed to be this cynical, hard place.”
That was a moment he’ll never forget, he said.
“I had been there in ‘96 when UK played in the Final Four,” Delk said. “So I had seen it (in better days).”
With TV coverage of 9/11 intensifying this week, he said, “I think I’ll watch it and try to deal with it. It was my first and last disaster relief trip. I couldn’t have gone to another one immediately after that, and then life got in the way.”
“It was the most humbling week of my life,” he said, “and perhaps the most gratifying at the same time.”