Salvation Army major reflects on 9/11 experience

9/11 Never Forget

September 11 Timeline

DANBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — It’s one of those moments when we all know where we were. September 11, 2001. Things would never be the same again.

“I can still smell the smells,” said Major Gilbert Parkhurst of the Danbury Salvation Army, who was working for the Salvation Army in Pennsylvania during 9/11.

On that morning, almost 20 years ago, Parkhurst received a phone call from national headquarters. All Salvation Army canteen trucks in the Northeast were to be put on standby.

“Once I turned on the television, I realized why they were doing that,” he said.

Just minutes after the first plane struck the North Tower, the Salvation Army was one of the first relief organizations to reach Ground Zero.  

Something happened as the men and women from the Salvation Army made their way through Manhattan.

“The police came over to us. They had the road blocked, asked us to shut off all our electronic devices, shut off our vehicles because 50 to 100 yards ahead of us, they had a car that they were defusing because it was loaded with explosives and it was headed into the tunnel,” Parkhurst said.

Parkhurst and his co-workers would spend 13 of the next 14 days at Ground Zero, tending to the needs of firefighters and policemen, the FBI and Secret Service. They provided practical assistance to thousands. And, maybe something even more critical.

“Part of what I do when I go, I provide spiritual and emotional care. It’s a lot more than just handing out a bottle of water or a sandwich. On this one street, there was one fireman. Nobody else around him, and he was just kneeling down and looking up.”

Parkhurst paused to collect himself.

You don’t realize how much it impacts you until you talk about it, he said.

“I went over, I put my hand on his shoulder. I asked him if he was ok. And he said he had lost every one of his men in the World Trade Center. And just for a few minutes, to be able to offer him some hope and some encouragement. That’s why we do what we do.”

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