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Turlock man recalls his time as Ground Zero chaplain
Chaplain pic
Turlock resident Tim Guerino stands in front of a makeshift memorial door behind one of the fire departments near Ground Zero. - photo by Photo Contributed

On a June day of this year Turlock resident Tim Guerino was once again walking on Ground Zero. Ten years prior he had stepped on that same hallowed ground, among the rubble and ruins praying for the fallen and the living alike, doling out words of solace, hope and faith.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Guerino, who spent much of his youth in New York, was living in Alabama serving as a pastor. On that particular day he was taking his daughter to school when he heard the news of a plane striking the World Trade Center North Tower. Like millions of other Americans, he was watching the news when the second plane hit. It wasn’t long after that the phone in the Guerino household started ringing.

Through a network of relatives, friends, and acquaintances, Guerino was being called to New York to serve as a chaplain to the first responders.

Three days later the Protestant pastor found himself at the heart of one of the greatest tragedies America has ever experienced.

He listened to stories of loss and hopelessness and opened his Bible to Psalm 23. When the recovery workers said they felt alone, he read them Jeremiah 29:11. And when he felt overwhelmed by the task at hand, he turned to Psalm 34.

More than 38 hours later when he was walking out of Ground Zero, Guerino was handed a cell phone by a police officer and on the other end was a young girl who wanted to know if her father was coming home. He was one of the fire fighters who had rushed into the towers and had not been heard from since.

“There is no training for that kind of question,” Guerino said. “I told her that even though he wasn’t coming home he would live in her heart forever.”

Guerino wrote the following in the days after Sept.11, 2001.


Where do we go from here?

By Tim Guerino

After 38 hours of what has become known across a bereaved nation as “Ground Zero,” I made my way back to the subway. The police wanted to give me an escort all the way back to my cousin’s house, but I needed time alone. I needed to return to the real world again; away from the war zone; away from the haze of smoke; away from the smell of jet fuel; away from frantic, exhausted rescue workers; away from death; away from a glimpse of Hell.

Ground Zero was at the corner of Liberty and Church streets. I was escorted by several contingents of emergency personnel after the newly appointed Chief asked, “Chaplain, why aren’t you at Ground Zero?”

When I arrived, to my surprise I was the only chaplain there. Others were delivering pastoral care at other places around the city, but for Ground Zero I was it. I later discovered that none of the emergency personnel were letting anyone in. I guess I got there for one reason only — God must have wanted me there.

Over the time that I was there I must have spoken to thousands of men and women. There are so many stories of so many lives I can’t retell them all; I can only put adjectives to them — grief, anger, despair, helplessness. But there was also strength, bravery, resilience, perseverance, love. It wasn’t just those who were there, it was also the spouses and families of those who were there. They often didn’t know or couldn’t understand why their husbands or wives weren’t coming home and when they did come home, why they still were not quite there. Those are the stories of New York Ground Zero.

But now from the distance of 1,000 miles and a few days, I’m wondering what the story might be for each of us. It comes to me now as I recall a strange incident in the wee hours of Ground Zero. About 2 a.m. one morning as the rescue work continued a probe started. Everything went silent as sound probes went into an open pit of rubble, listening for sounds of life. The silence was eerie. Thousands of people were standing in united silence hoping for just one person to be rescued. It was a scene of Biblical proportions. How is it that thousands stand silent in hope for just one life and Christians across this nation and around the world are in the midst of millions of unsaved souls? But our rescue efforts come not from silence, but from actions, from voices in unison proclaiming the Good News of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. In Luke 15:10 we are told that there is “joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

The world needs our love; the world needs relief from evil; the world needs relief from hatred and revenge. This incident, as terrible as it is, is a clarion call to all of us — we have our marching orders from our great commander, Jesus Christ: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

We think we have time; we think we have tomorrow to do these things. Let me tell you a story of a little girl’s relative I spoke with while I was in New York. This woman told me a heartbreaking story of a little girl who believed her daddy was killed because she wasn’t moving fast enough in getting ready for school. Undoubtedly, dad snapped at his sleepy little girl, never thinking it would be his last morning with her. Her father got upset that morning; a few hours later he was dead. He could never say he was sorry. She would always remember that morning when her daddy got mad her. Be careful of your words. Be careful of what you say and don’t say. We don’t always have tomorrow. The time is now.

Want to strike against terrorism? Strike against the great terrorist Satan. Do that which Satan hates the most; take a soul from him by leading someone to Christ. It will take perseverance and it will take love; it will especially take forgiveness. Use this incident to put some perspective into things: Remember that petty slight? Forget it. Remember that unkind word at home or at work? Forget it. Remember the courtesy unacknowledged or not returned? Forget it.

We win through conciliation; we win through understanding; we win through mutual support and uplift in the spirit of Christ’s love for each of us. And whether we’re battling beasts from across the globe or the beast within us, we know that we have a mighty fortress in our God. Let’s reach out to a hurting world to evangelize that world for Christ. Satan is doing his work. Where are we?


9/11 Memories

To read all of the 9/11 memories sent in from Journal readers, pick up a Sept. 10 edition of the Turlock Journal at your local newsstand or at the Journal office, located at 138 S. Center St.