Jeffrey R. Holland once said “In times of great need, God sends angels” (Oct 2008). There was no time of greater need than during the American tragedy of September 11, 2001. There are so many heartbreaking stories from this tragedy. This one is a story of healing and hope. This is a story of angels.
Even on the thirteenth anniversary, I am still filled with the same deep sorrow and horror I felt that day. When I think about it, I have flashbacks to where I was, what I saw, and what I felt. Life would never be the same. I suspect each of us living at the time of those events, either witnessing it personally or vicariously, will forever suffer varying degrees of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. We search for meaning and solace. I did not know any of those killed or injured, but I still feel a very personal connection to them. We were all attacked that day. I struggle emotionally. There are so many heartbreaking stories from this tragedy which add to the pain. But, there are also stores that help heal our heart; a reminder and a symbol of all the good that happened during and after such a shattering event. This story has been told many times before, but I had never heard it until today. I think it’s a story we need to tell many more times, share with others, and never forget. – MoSop
The following account was written by Chelsea J. Carter, and published as part of a CNN.com report. The full article can be read at: Faces of 9/11: Where are they now?
Josephine Harris, the angel
Her story of survival is wrapped up with six firefighters who say they made it through the collapse of the World Trade Center’s North Tower because they were trying to rescue her.
Harris, like so many, was trying to make her way down the stairwell of the North Tower.
Flight after flight, she descended. She stopped on the 20th floor, physically unable to take another step on her own.
The firefighters of Ladder Company 6 were on the 27th floor or so of the building and still climbing when then-Capt. Jay Jonas got a call on the radio that the South Tower had collapsed and he needed to get his men out of the North Tower.
“It was an almost empty feeling that we couldn’t help anyone,” Jonas, now a deputy chief, said this week.
As they were making their way down the stairwell, they found Harris. There she was, crying in the doorway, Jonas said.
“Hey Cap, what do you want us to do?” one of the firefighters asked. “Take her with us,” Jonas said.
Half-carrying Harris, the firefighters continued to make their way down, slowly.
The clock was ticking.
By the time they made it to the fourth floor, Harris fell to the ground.
Leave me, she ordered the firefighters. They, of course, refused.
Then it happened. The 110-story building collapsed.
“It seemed like forever,” Jonas said. It was only 13 seconds.
When it was over, Harris and the men of Ladder 6 were alive, entombed in the debris.
“There was only one time she lost her composure,” Jonas said. “She said she was afraid, and she started to cry.”
Without orders from the captain, the firefighters took turns caring for Harris until hours later when the thick dust settled and they were able to see a way to get out and get help.
“She was definitely alive because of us,” Jonas said.
And they were alive because of her.
“She chose the fourth floor to stop, to fall to the floor,” he said. “… Nobody survived above the fifth floor or on the first floor. If we hadn’t stopped there, who knows? We probably wouldn’t have survived.”
In the years that followed, Harris became known at the “Angel of Ladder Company 6,” and she and the firefighters stayed in contact.
Their story resonated with many people post-September 11, and they made appearances together at parades and dedications.
“If Josephine got a call to do an interview or an appearance, she would always call and make sure we were OK with it,” Jonas said. “We would always tell her yes, and we’ll be there with you.”
On Jan. 12, 2011, Harris called 911 from her Brooklyn apartment.
By the time firefighters arrived, she had died of an apparent heart attack.
Jonas got the news in a telephone call from a firefighter. “It was like losing a member of your family, and she really was a member of the (Ladder 6) family,” he said.
What neither he nor the other firefighters knew was that Harris was destitute. “She was an intensely private person,” Jonas said.
For days, her body lay uncollected at the city morgue. Her family didn’t have enough money to bury her.
“I thought ‘Man, she’s going to Potter’s Field, if we don’t do something,” Jonas said.
So he got on the phone to the other firefighters, and they started to spread the word across the city.
They were soon contacted by the owner of Greenwich Village Funeral Home, who had heard of Harris’ death. He remembered the story of the “guardian angel” of Ladder 6 and offered to pick up the entire cost of the service.
Jonas and the firefighters carried Harris one last time. They served as pallbearers, carrying her casket engraved with the words “guardian angel.”
“May we all believe more readily in, and have more gratitude for, the Lord’s promise… “I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left…my Spirit shall be in your [heart], and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.” In the process of praying for those angels to attend us, may we all try to be a little more angelic ourselves . . . Perhaps then we can be emissaries sent from God when someone…is crying”
– Jeffrey R. Holland, The Ministry of Angels, Oct. 2008