Noland recalls events of 9/11

By Joe Noland, Commissioner–

The date of 9/11 has been twice imprinted indelibly on my psyche. First, as the divisional commander in Hawaii when Hurricane Iniki devastated the island of Kauai on September 11, 1992, and second, as the territorial commander in the U.S.A. Eastern Territory when the twin trade towers were attacked on September 11, 2001.

My experiences during the aftermath of Iniki prepared me for what was to become an extraordinary response to a modern-day disaster unprecedented on American soil.

In both instances, there was great concern, both within and without The Salvation Army, that our public relations and fundraising machine were failing us. “Why isn’t ‘The Salvation Army’ up there in the headlines with other relief organizations?” was the hue and cry echoing across my desk day after day. Our experiences in Iniki had taught me convincingly that “blowing our own horn” would “become as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.” Our priority, even before the second plane slammed into the tower, was to find our way into the trenches and serve others quietly, unobtrusively, compassionately and unconditionally without concern with who gets the credit.

One example out of thousands: When I took General John Gowans down into the pit a fireman put his arms around him and whispered into his ear, “You are the unsung heroes down here.” Two months later I saw that same gentleman being interviewed on the television program “20/20” and learned the rest of the story. His son, a fireman, had been lost as one of the buildings came tumbling down and he had vowed to stay at ground zero until they found him. His remains were discovered shortly before Christmas and thus the reason for the interview.

What struck me most was this man’s impression that we were the unsung heroes down there. Why? Because of our well-designed public relations campaign? Or was it because “love never fails?” How many others will hear that “unsung hero” phrase uttered from his lips? Will it be passed down through succeeding generations?

The Salvation Army was the first in and the last to leave during both 9/11s (we are still in NY) and his kingdom is profiting beyond our greatest expectations—“And though I feed the workers and wash their feet, and though I work long hours sacrificially, but have not love it profits me nothing.”

The genius of the Army can be summed up in this paraphrased final verse from 1 Corinthians 13: “And now abide public relations, hard work, love, these three; but the greatest is love.”

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