from Chaplain Herman Keizer '65, recipient of the 2001 Calvin College Distinguished
Alumni Award, written on September 13, 2001.
Note: Chaplain Keizer has been a much-decorated Army Chaplain, serving in Vietnam and many other difficult places over his career. Most recently, he was transferred from the Pentagon to a special assignment in the Office of International Religious Freedom at the Department of State. Chaplain Keizer's office wrote some "talking points" for Secretary of State Colin Powell concerning the religious components of this tragedy, urging against blanket condemnation and retaliation. His sentiments along that line come out in the narrative below, even though he has lost many personal friends in this horrible attack.
11 September 2001
When I got to the Pentagon, several of the chaplains who were here for the joint command chaplain's meeting were standing outside by the River Entrance. (It so happens that I was scheduled to brief them on Monday afternoon but that was canceled.) They were asking for volunteers to go in and help bring folks out of the building. The chaplains and I joined the group. One of the nurses asked for a chaplain to assist at an area where they were going to set up a morgue. I volunteered for that duty. I went to the area and we put up police tape and briefed the volunteers on what we were going to do when they began bringing out the bodies. After about a half-hour they told us that the firefighters refused to let any of the others into the affected area and that it would be a long time before bodies could be retrieved.
I went into the building and the center courtyard. The other chaplains were there, waiting. I stayed with them for awhile and we talked to some firefighters. They said that it was hot and they could not get far into the area and that the building was getting very unstable.
I then moved to South Parking where they were staging the medical folks. There were several chaplains there and we were told that it would be a long time before any one would be brought out. I was told to go home and they would call if they needed someone.
The building was really burning and the smoke was thick throughout. The area that got hit was part of a newly finished area. That may be a blessing in many ways. Not all the offices had moved and the glass in the new area was shatterproof, which had already saved lives. I talked to several people who got out and they told of how the glass had saved lives. That was also the area of the senior Army leaders and my old office in the Assistant Secretary of the Army. I know a lot of those people and pray that they will be all right.
This is an act of violence of major proportion. We will not soon recover. They are still not letting rescue people into parts of the building, so the toll in lives lost and the possibility of people still alive is impossible to determine. I don't think we will find many alive, not with the amount of smoke in that part of the building.
Pray for those killed and wounded. Pray also that we will not take revenge on those minorities in this country we might want to blame. Now is the time for us to show the world that we are a people of law and order. Most of all we need to demonstrate that we are a people of faith.
Thanks for the thoughts and prayers.
12 September 2001
The Army Chief of Chaplains office called me at about 3:00 p.m. and asked if I would be the chaplain representative in the Army Operation Center in the Pentagon for the night shift. The AOC is in the basement of the Pentagon. It is where the members of the various staff sections manage and coordinate the activities of the Army in operational issues. I had worked there many times in the many assignments I had at the Pentagon.
I said, "Yes, of course." Many of my colleagues had been on site for most of the 11th and 12th. I got to the Pentagon at about 5:00 p.m. and had a turn over briefing from the chaplain who was on duty. There were several issues that needed to be followed up on and during the night I followed up on them. At 1800 hours, the General in charge of the Personnel section and people from Casualties Affairs and Family Support Command and I discussed plans for support of the families involved in this terrorist attack. We worked the issues for two and one-half hours and developed a very excellent strategy for family support. Several of the people at the meeting were people I worked with in previous positions of mine at the Pentagon.
The chaplains of all the services were sharing the responsibility for ministry at the Pentagon. They set up a tent in the area of where the Pentagon was hit. I went out to visit them and see the damage up close. The damage is difficult to imagine even when you see it up close. The one section that collapsed was heart-stopping to see. Many of my friends from the Deputy Chief of Staff's office worked in that area. Many are missing. A Navy element on the third floor was also hit hard. The fire was still going on the roof and while I was there the aviation fuel re-ignited. The fire was very stubborn because of the way the fifth floor was constructed.
The chaplains were doing great ministry to the people involved. I walked through the area three times during the night and talked to soldiers, firefighters, FBI agents, and search-and-rescue people. Many are so young. They are really great young people and really are caring for the people they know and with whom they were involved. In many ways it is typical "hurry up and wait," but the wait is also useful. I talked to many about what they would face or what they had experienced. The firefighters are magnificent. Because the area is still a crime scene the FBI goes in first and gathers clues and identifies where the bodies are and gather any evidence at the scene, then others follow and bag the bodies or the body parts and then young soldiers carry the bodies out. It is a slow, painful, and surreal picture.
Several things happened
during the night which keep me busy until about 0500. The morning briefing
slides were all done and ready for the senior leadership. I suddenly felt
very tired. My relief arrived and we talked about the last few days. He
had been on leave and was called off leave. At 0700, I walked to the Metro
for a ride to Van Dorn and then took a cab home.
I ask you to pray for the families of those who were murdered in New York and here at the Pentagon, for their co-workers who now stand by helpless, for the firefighters, the rescue workers, the Red Cross volunteers and to the chaplains who minister to them.
I also urge you all to discourage any vengeful talk to other Americans of minority faiths and ethnic groups. We need to demonstrate to the world that we are a people given to the rule of law and to the rights of all citizens. These are precious freedoms, many people I know died to secure them.
Pray for the men and women in the Armed Forces. We have only just begun.
God bless you all.
Herman Keizer Jr.
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