LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — 20 years ago tomorrow, millions watched in horror and disbelief the tragic events unfolding on our television screens, but one man ran toward the danger and is sharing his story.
“Do you remember praying that day? We all prayed that day – we did.”
In July 2000, after military assignments in places like South Korea, Germany, and the Tobyhanna Army Depot, Colonel Jim May was assigned to Arlington National Cemetery as their senior army chaplain.
“I did four to six funerals every day for three years, figuring around 3,000 funerals all together we conducted,” said Chaplain James E. May of Manheim, Lancaster County.
For most of us twenty years ago, the day started out just like any other.
“One day at Arlington stands out more than anything else, and that was Tues morning September 11 2001.”
“As I was doing the service, there was a helicopter flying overhead, going to the pentagon – which borders Arlington cemetery.”
Thinking it was more routine than anything else, Jim gathered his belongings after a morning’s funeral.
“By the time I got back to my office, which is less than a quarter of a mile away, there were people looking up, aghast.”
When Jim looked up as well, he knew something was wrong.
“A huge, huge plume of smoke rising from the Pentagon,” said May.
Jim felt compelled to head to the building.
“I made my way over to the pentagon,” said May.
And so did many of Washington DC’s military chaplains and ministers, who walked with faith into the pentagon that day.
“I didn’t sense any danger at all, I sensed tragedy,” said May.
Over the course of the next few weeks, Jim presided over seven individual funerals of people who lost their lives in the pentagon that day
One year later along with many of the nation’s leaders, Jim prayed over the casket that included the comingled remains of 185 of the pentagons victims.
“I think an event like September 11 helps us as a nation to focus on what is important and I think on that day and several weeks afterward, there was a great emphasis on unity and strength and even turning to god,” said May.