VALPARAISO | On Sept. 11, 2001, the Rev. Bill Wrede stood near the collapsed towers of the World Trade Center blessing first responders as they entered the site.
“One after another, they came to be blessed,” Wrede said Wednesday during the city's annual Sept. 11 remembrance at Foundation Meadows Park on Campbell Street.
Wrede is director of admissions with Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, and he recruits at Valparaiso University. He was guest speaker at the event, attended by about 40 residents, city officials and police and fire personnel.
When the terrorist attacks occurred, Wrede was living in Long Island, N.Y. He was on the expressway when the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed, and he immediately headed toward the site to see how he could help.
With a handkerchief wrapped around his nose and mouth, he began consoling and ministering to people in the street. He was so close to ground zero, he could feel debris hitting his back, he said.
In the midst of the smoke that filled the air, he saw a firefighter coming toward him “as almost a ghost.” The man fell into his arms saying, “Father, I've seen no one alive.”
Other first responders began forming a line to receive a blessing and anointing of oil from Wrede.
In the months following the tragedy, Wrede served at Respite South, a rest area for on-site cleanup workers. He also served as a chaplain at the on-site morgue where he provided spiritual care for emergency medical and law enforcement personnel.
The job of gathering remains was grim, as often only fragments of bodies could be recovered. Yet, workers were spurred on because they wanted to return even a “portion of somebody's loved one,” Wrede said.
Among the more poignant finds: a fragment of a finger with a wedding ring, and a firefighter's helmet with pictures of his family tucked into the hat band, Wrede said.
Through it all, the focus was to “take the horrible events of 9/11 and bring about good,” he said.
“Our theme was being about the greater good,” Wrede said.
The ceremony also included remarks by Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas, who praised local police and fire personnel for their professionalism, courage and ability to bring calm to a situation. He said he personally experienced this two months ago when paramedics attended to his father, Bill Costas.