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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Overcoming Evil with Good
Jeffrey Grahn shares his experiences as a New York City police officer on 9/11


From 2001-2004, Jeffrey Grahn was vice-president of Police Officers For Christ (POFC), a Christian fraternal organization within the New York City Police Department. This organization is devoted to sharing the Good News of the Gospel of Christ to fellow law enforcement officers, not just in the New York City area, but throughout the country and even abroad. He retired from the NYPD in 2004 after a devastating injury, and presently works for the Legionaries of Christ as a front desk receptionist in Thornwood, New York. Following this year’s anniversary of 9/11, he spoke with Br. Antônio Lemos, LC about his experience.

What was 9/11 like for you?

9/11/2001 started out as a beautiful morning like the beginning of any other fall day. At 7:30 that morning, I dropped my four-year-old daughter off at daycare, and as I was walking with her, she turned to me and said “Daddy, please take the day off today; let’s go to the park.” Something inside told me that I had to go to work that morning. I told her that I would take half of the day off and return to get her at 12:30, and to wait by the front window by the door to look for me. I gave her a big hug, kissed her and I told her that I loved her very much. Those were my last words to her for 32 days. I still feel bad to this day, because I always picture my daughter waiting for me at the front window, waiting for my return that afternoon. I was not able to keep my promise to her; in fact, she would not be picked up from the daycare until 7:00pm that night by my relatives whom they contacted as my emergency contact. They were waiting for me to pick her up, but they did not have any way to communicate with me since my cell phone did not work down at Ground Zero
when the towers came down.

I will always remember that the last words that I said to my daughter were “I love you.” One of the lessons that I learned from 9/11 is that when you walk out your door each day and say goodbye to your loved ones, you should always leave a good note with them, tell them that you love them, make it a habit, be real and make it from the heart. You never know what you will face that day. I always think about those people who perished in the towers that day and imagine what were the last things they said to their families, I always hope that they left on a good note with their families and did not have a dispute with hurtful words, because whatever they said, that is what the surviving members will remember. You always want to leave on good terms, no matter what, I cannot stress that enough. Put aside any differences you have, any anger issues, any fights you had, just for a moment and tell them that you love them as you walk out the door to start your day.

How were you notified about the attack on the World Trade Center?

I arrived at my command in the Bronx, and shortly afterwards we received a call from police headquarters telling us to turn on the news because a plane had just hit one of the World Trade Center towers. At first we thought it was just an accident, a major pilot error. We were then ordered to suit up in our uniforms and quickly arrived down to Lower Manhattan. We soon discovered that a second plane had hit the other tower and that we were now under some sort of an attack. Shortly after that, as you know, many of the buildings at the World Trade Center site were destroyed and the surrounding buildings were heavily damaged, hampering our immediate rescue operation mission. We had to be constantly on the move, removing injured people over to the local medical facility, Beekman Hospital. I remember that the last building to come down long after the Twin Towers had fallen at the WTC site was Building #7; it was on fire for a while and the steel beams within the building made a loud creaking noise before its collapse. Our unit was comprised of over thirty law enforcement officers who responded from the Bronx. After our initial response, we were away from our families for about a month, working night and day, always thinking about our loved ones. It quickly turned from a rescue operation to a recovery operation by about the third day. There was nobody alive to be rescued at that point; we were just recovering bodies.

What happened when you arrived at the Towers?

The first thing I remember is that as we were pulling up to the scene in our police vehicles, people were running past us in great numbers. I can recall the deep fear on their faces, trying to get away from the scene as quickly as possible and trying to get home. I knew this was something big; it was very scary. This is the typical life of a police officer or fireman: we run into dangerous situations while people are running out to escape. It is really hard to deal with the fact that we lost so many emergency first responders that day: 343 firefighters, 26 NYC police officers, and over 60 other officers from various law enforcement agencies. One thing I remember that really affected me is that first night when the department was
trying to determine who was left standing and who did not make it out, hearing those names being called out like a return roll call. We would hear officers answering when their names were called, but we also heard the silence after the names of the officers that did not make it out. At the end of that first night, they were trying to compile a list of who was missing in action. It truly was a hard thing to hear, as a lot of us personally knew many of those officers.

What got you through this traumatic situation?

I really believe that it was the prayers of the people from around the nation and from around the world that got us through those tough days during the recovery operation down at Ground Zero. I remember hearing from others outside the recovery zone that a lot of people were praying for us. We received letters in the mail - many cards from schoolchildren, handwritten notes saying “Thank You” and that they were thinking and praying for us. That really energized us all and kept us going with the task at hand. The UPS and the FEDEX delivery personnel would constantly drop off boxes to us, addressed to any police officer, fireman, or rescue worker. I will never forget one package that we received from a woman in a small town in Kansas; inside the box was the biggest Tupperware container that I’ve ever seen, filled with homemade chocolate chip cookies. All of us rescue/recovery workers lined up to get one of those cookies, because it was something that reminded us of home, and many of us were unable to go home until the job was finished. It was really touching to have these home-baked chocolate chip cookies and to have the personal prayers of this woman encouraging us to keep going strong. This kind of support was arriving on a daily basis, tons of letters and packages from all over the USA and even the world.

What did you learn from your experience on 9/11? 

One thing that always comes to mind is Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” That always stuck with me and I always told my fellow officers that we need to overcome this and come out even stronger.

The other thing that I again want to mention because I cannot emphasis it enough, is when you walk out that door, when you are going to work, to school, or going anywhere, always let your family know that you love them, because you never know what type of day is ahead. Your family will always remember the last words that you said to them; put aside any differences - “do not let the sun go down on your wrath.”

Lastly, in the police department there is a radio code that we use – 10-13 – which means that there is a police officer in very serious trouble and in need of help. When you put that call out as a police officer, officers from all over will immediately respond to your call for assistance in great numbers. That is what happened on that morning of 9/11; many 10-13 radio calls were placed by my fellow officers and we responded to their call for help. It is amazing to relate this to God’s Word, to Romans 10:13, which says that “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” This is a wonderful parallel, because when an officer is in trouble, he calls to be saved by his fellow officers, and this is actually what we do as Christians; we call to God in our deepest distress. We make that 10-13 call and he is near to us, attentive to our cry, and responds to us; as we draw near to him, he draws near to us. Do not hesitate in any moment to make that call; he is always available 24/7.



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