From the Worldwide Faith News archives

UMNS# 538-Pentagon attack painful memory for retired chaplain

From "NewsDesk" <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Tue, 12 Sep 2006 16:24:59 -0500

Pentagon attack painful memory for retired chaplain

Sep. 12, 2006 News media contact: Kathy Gilbert * (615) 7425470* Nashville {538}

NOTE: Additional stories, photos, video, audio and a logo for the series "9-11: Responding in Faith" can be found at

A UMNS Feature By Kathy L. Gilbert*

The Rev. Terry Bradfield fears a heinous tragedy has been compounded by grievous errors after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Bradfield was an Army chaplain on assignment at the Pentagon's Army Chief of Chaplain's office on that fateful day five years ago. He was assigned to mortuary detail in the first days after the attacks.

"I think there's a lot more fear in the world now than there was before," he says. "I don't want to say it's unwarranted fear because the world's a dangerous place. There's just a boldness now that wasn't there before 9/11; there is a quickness to blame and that's a sad circumstance."

Bradfield remembers in the first days after the attack an Air Force general was walking around the Pentagon grounds. Someone asked him, "General, what are we going to do about this?"

Bradfield says the general replied, "One of the things we don't want to do is take a heinous tragedy and compound it with a grievous error."

"I'm not sure that we've been able to live into those words of caution," Bradfield says.

The empathy and support of the international community were with the United States immediately following 9/11, he says, even after military operations in Afghanistan.

"I feel like our national leaders have squandered that good will by demonizing an entire culture, cultivating a climate of perpetual fear, and bullying the world into an 'us-or-them' paradigm that is unhealthy and dangerous," he says. "Whatever the result of the 'war on terror,' I am fearful that we have solidified a cultural rift that will take generations, if not centuries, to heal."

Tuesday, Sept. 11

The Pentagon was undergoing renovations at the time of the attack, and Bradfield's office had been moved to another building. That is where he was when the plane hit.

"Where the plane entered the Pentagon was only about 45 feet from our old offices," he says.

Like so many Americans, he heard the news report that a plane had hit the World Trade Centers in New York. Everyone was gathered around watching CNN when the second plane hit.

"It wasn't but a few minutes later we looked out the window and could see black smoke coming from the direction of the Pentagon," he says.

Most of the chaplains immediately left the building to render aid. Something made Bradfield look back over his shoulder.

"I saw all the civilian employees standing in the office with a puzzled look on their face, sort of like, 'Where are these guys going?' I tapped the shoulder on the chaplain in front of me and said I was going to stay back for a while."

He says that turned out to be a good decision because for the next few hours that office became the communications center for most of the Army leadership as the Pentagon was evacuated.

Wednesday, Sept. 12

The next day, after the fires were out, he became part of a four-man team on mortuary detail.

His place on the team was in the refrigerator trucks tagged as mortuary vans. One chaplain accompanied the search and rescue team as they went into the building. The remains would be brought out and handed off to a team of stretcher bearers. A chaplain would accompany the stretcher to the truck and Bradfield would help bring the remains into the truck.

While a doctor was uncovering the remains and pronouncing death, Bradfield was saying a prayer.

"Then we would cover the remains up, move them to a place in the van and bring in the next set. I did that for several days. I think we were on 12-hour shifts during that time."

The rest of the days

It is not easy for Bradfield to live with the memories of those days, and most of the time he tries to not think about them.

"When you are in the middle of it, the training kicks in," he says. "There were a lot of soldiers from Arlington Cemetery - the soldiers who normally are on the burial details - who had volunteered to come down and assist with the removal of the remains. So in a lot of ways it felt like I was back in my early days in the chaplaincy when I was a lieutenant and a captain and I had my unit and I was out with the troops."

Being a chaplain meant he also tried to help "young kids" who were soldiers deal with issues of death, dying, mortality and fear. He says he probably still suffers from post-traumatic syndrome because of Sept. 11.

"When I'm in groups where people start saying, 'Where were you on 9/11?' and they start talking about where they were, I get tight. I probably get a little angry when I listen to the stories until I can remind myself that all of us were there on 9/11. And all of us were impacted in some way on 9/11. There's just no way to avoid it."

Hearing about other perspectives has been part of the healing process, he says.

'Taken the joy away'

Bradfield's wife, Maile, says up until 9/11 they had been living "a charmed life."

"It showed me a level of hatred that to this day I still can't wrap my heart around," she says. The worst effect for her is seeing what it has done to her husband.

"It has taken the joy away from Terry," she says. "He's like the most care-free, loving, joyful person I've ever met in my life, and for him to have to deal with that on a daily basis just makes me angry."

Bradfield, who has retired from the military and is now an executive with the United Methodist General Council on Finance and Administration, says being a chaplain was a great career for nearly 23 years.

"I have loved almost every moment of those 23 years.

"The worst thing that happened in my entire career was 9/11 and the Pentagon attack."

* Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or


United Methodist News Service Photos and stories also available at:

Browse month . . . Browse month (sort by Source) . . . Advanced Search & Browse . . . WFN Home