Bamberg chaplain recounts service on 9/11, days following
September 6, 2012
BAMBERG, Germany -- Like most Americans, Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Joanne Martindale remembers where she was on Sept. 11, 2001, but she also has vivid memories of where she spent the next month and a half.
Martindale, the deployment support chaplain in Bamberg, was a chaplain in the New Jersey National Guard on 9/11 and was activated that day. She said she spent Sept. 11 notifying families of the deaths of loved ones in the World Trade Center and then spent the next 45 days at the heart of the recovery and clean-up effort.
Martindale said she received a phone call telling her she had been activated shortly after arriving at her job as director of chaplaincy at Ancora Psychiatric Hospital in New Jersey and hearing about the terrorist attacks.
Her first assignment that day was to go to an elementary school to notify an 8-year-old girl and her 9-year-old brother that their mother had died in the attack. She said the siblings had lost their father six months earlier.
Martindale said she sat on the floor with the children to break the news to them.
"Fortunately for them, the mom's best friend adopted them," she said. "They had no other family."
Martindale said she still keeps in touch with the children, who are now in college.
"Those children are the only ones I talk to every 9/11," she said. "I call them no matter where I am on 9/11."
Martindale said her second assignment of the day took her to visit a mother in Edison, N.J. She said when she arrived the mother saw her coming and asked Martindale how many of her children had died.
"We sat next to each other on the porch swing, and I said, 'All three,' " Martindale said. "I sat there with her for an hour while she cried."
Martindale said she spent the rest of the afternoon with the woman, helping her cook her three sons' favorite foods in their honor. The sons were all professionals who worked in the Twin Towers.
For the 45 days following the 9/11 attacks, Martindale spent the mornings working at ground zero and the afternoons across the river at the Fresh Kills Landfill, which was used to sort through debris. Martindale said she spent most of her time walking around and talking to the workers at the sites.
"I was to track the burnout level of the workers," she said.
She also preached at a worship service at the landfill the first Sunday after the 9/11 attacks. She said hundreds of people attended.
Martindale said her experience on and following 9/11 taught her the importance of care for the caregiver. She said she spent so much time focusing on others she didn't leave enough time for herself.
"I had some friends who offered help, but I didn't take them up on that," she said. "I think I should have done a better job utilizing my support system."
Martindale said she just went back to ground zero for the first time in August.
"It was surreal to go back there," she said. "It looks very different from the way I picture it. It is good they made it a site so people don't forget what happened."
Martindale will share more about her experience as a keynote speaker at 9/11 remembrance events in both Schweinfurt and Bamberg.
Schweinfurt's Religious Support Office will host a garrison-wide prayer breakfast Sept. 11 at the Conn Club. All units will have one to three tables reserved for this event, and all participants must have a ticket to attend. Tickets are available through unit representatives.
The Bamberg Community Chapel will have a memorial ceremony to commemorate 9/11 at noon at the chapel.
Martindale said every year since the attacks, she has been a guest speaker at two to three 9/11 memorial events.
Martindale said she thinks it is important to share the stories of those involved in the attacks.
"There were a lot of people that weren't there," she said. "It helps them feel like they were there."