PUNXSUTAWNEY — The tragedy of 9/11 was remembered at several Sunday gatherings, both in religious and secular groups alike.
Capt. Dave Rhodes, Salvation Army, Kittaning, was the featured speaker at the memorial service that was held by the Punxsutawney Ministerium Sunday afternoon in Barclay Square.
Rhodes said he has significant memories of the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, especially of when the planes flew into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, since he had spent a lot of time ringing the bell for the Red Kettle in front of those two buildings when he was attending the Salvation Army Seminary near New York City.
Rhodes said he, like most everyone else, remembered where he was when the attacks took place.
He was assigned as the new pastor at the Franklin Salvation Army and had just gotten married.
"I came down from my apartment into the church office when my secretary said to me, 'You need to turn the television on,'" Rhodes said, adding that he turned it on just in time to see the replay of the first plane striking the World Trade Center, which left him in shock.
"I stood there day after day watching the commuters walk by and ringing my bell and collecting money," he said of ringing the kettle bell outside of the World Trade Center. "Now I was looking at it, and it was on fire, and people were running out of it screaming."
Rhodes said he didn't know how to handle all of the devastation at the time.
"People started coming in to the Salvation Army that day, so we moved a television into the sanctuary just in time to see the second plane strike the second tower," Rhodes said, adding that he also watched when planes struck the Pentagon and then crashed in Shanksville.
"I was glued to the television that day, and I continued to watch and watch all day long," he said.
The next day, the pastors in Franklin put together a prayer service and asked Rhodes to speak, since he had lived and worked in New York City, but he couldn't think of anything to say.
Rhodes said he thought the song "Precious Lord" written by Thomas Dorsey would be the most appropriate thing that he could sing instead of speaking.
"We asked God what He had in store for everyone following these tragic events," Rhodes said, adding that four days later, he was riding a bus to New York to operate a Salvation Army Canteen near ground zero.
"I had been on numerous canteens before, (but) as we drove through New Jersey and headed to New York City, I could see the smoke coming out from the bottom of Manhattan, which shocked me to my core that day," he said.
The second thing that stood out from that day was the two tanks sitting at the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, Rhodes said.
"Life as we knew it was a thing of the past," he said. "I was assigned to a Salvation Army Canteen at 31st Street and First Avenue, which was the old Bellevue Mental Hospital and New York City Morgue."
He said the Salvation Army set up a canteen truck and a couple of tents filled with snacks.
"Our job was to take care of the thousands of doctors, nurses, EMTs and first responders," Rhodes said. "My main responsibility was to be a chaplain for those two weeks.
"Specifically the firemen, policemen, who were bringing in the remainder of their friends and loved ones," he said. "I would sit down there in New York City, which was a crazy busy place, then all of a sudden an ambulance would travel down the street with lights and no siren on, which meant one thing: (It was transporting) the remains of more brave men and women from ground zero as it drove by."
Rhodes said the experience was strange, sad, surreal and every other emotion known to mankind.
"Through all of the talk that I heard, there was one thing that stayed the same — God reigns," he said.
Rhodes said he did go down to ground zero that week, and he can still smell the smoke and the fire.
"Until this day, if I smell smoke or any kind of a fire, it takes me back to that day at ground zero," Rhodes said, adding that God showed him that in the heart of suffering and pain, there is peace.
Meanwhile, the First Church of God in Punxsutawney honored first responders with a special service Sunday.
Wayne Anderson, the interim pastor, said that church members are grateful for their service.
"We are grateful for your service that puts you into harm’s way when the sirens in the Punxsutawney area sound," Anderson said. "I want to remind everyone in the midst of all of the tragedies, we find a good God who is available to wipe away our tears and allow us to see the good that comes through, which seems at the time to be of a horrific tragedy."
The church located along Route 36, Young Township, held a salute to local first responders as part of a tenth anniversary 9/11 memorial service that was held Sunday.
In attendance were firefighters from Central, Lindsey, Elk Run, Oliver Township, Big Run and McCalmont Township fire companies.
Also honored were Punxsutawney-based Pennsylvania State Police, Punxsutawney Borough Police, Jefferson County EMS and REACT.
All departments received plaques acknowledging their service to the public, and each member received a certificate thanking him or her for taking time away from their families to help those in need.
Each participating fire company provided fire apparatus for the children and adults alike to climb in and check out.
Also participating in the ministerium program were Rev. Bill Young Jr. on keyboard; Captains Keith and Katie Jache, Punxsutawney Salvation Army; Rev. Jim Pond, First United Methodist Church; Rev. John Buchman, pastor, Punxsutawney Alliance Church; Rev. Maureen Seifried, pastor, First English Lutheran Church; Rev. Brett Swanson, First Presbyterian Church and Mt. Zion Lutheran Church, Trade City; Rev. Al Kimmel, pastor Crosstown, Ministries; and Anderson.