When Woody Miller expressed an interest in aiding relief efforts following the 9/11 attacks, his employer said yes. It was, as Woody put it, important to our country. As an American Red Cross volunteer he was able to deploy to New York City in mid-October.
More than a month after the attacks, the pile of debris that once stood as the twin towers continued to smolder. Workers at ground zero worked around the clock hauling away debris and recovering the remains of those lost. The possibility of survivors was long gone, but families still had a shot at closure.
"Whenever they recovered a body, there would be sirens," Woody said. "It was a touching moment because everybody knew what it meant. It was sort of a moment of relief for the families."
In the midst of a bleak situation, the Red Cross set up two Respite Centers on either side of ground zero, offering workers meals, a dormitory to catch up on sleep and counselors to provide emotional support. They served hundreds of meals each day.
Woody kept mementos from his time in NYC including his hard hat, mask and ID which he had to wear at all times for safety and security clearance. (More Photos)
As night manager for Respite Center North, or the "Oasis" as volunteers called it, it was Woody's responsibility to provide an escape for ground zero workers.
"We tried not to talk about Ground Zero at all,” he said. “We tried to make it a celebratory location."
Volunteers at the "Oasis" made it a point to celebrate birthdays. They decorated for Halloween and made good use of a popcorn machine. There was a computer area where workers could stay in touch with their families. One volunteer set up a display of cards from children around the U.S. thanking recovery workers for their service. Some would write back to the children thanking them for their warm wishes during such a dark time.
When he returned home two weeks later, Woody shared his story with family and friends who were curious of his experience. The Board of Aldermen (now Metro Council) recognized Woody and other Red Cross volunteers for their efforts in February of 2002, but like many others who helped, Woody feels that the opportunity to serve was a reward in itself.
"I just remember how the spirit of the workers was incredible," he said. "New York has a bad reputation as a cold and disheartening place, but people were warm and grateful for help. The opportunity to be a part of it was an honor."