COTTAGE GROVE, Ore. -- A former Cottage Grove pastor is reflecting on his ground zero experience 20 years after terrorists attacked the country on September 11, 2001.
"At 6 o'clock that morning on September 11, I got a call from somebody from the church I was pastoring," Jim Jenkins, a former United States Navy Chaplain who now lives in Monmouth, said. "They said, 'turn your TV on' and I knew that night that I was going to go there."
Jim Jenkins was a pastor in Cottage Grove for 20 years. He was ordered to go to ground zero. He arrived to New York 12 days after the attack.
"I arrived in Manhattan at night, rented a car and drove to Battery Park and there were National Guardsmen in their combat gear with weapons at the ready. They ran a mirror under my car to see if there was a bomb. I mean, everybody was on high alert," Jenkins said.
The next day, he saw ground zero in-person for the first time.
"As far as your eye could see, there was debris and destruction," Jenkins said. "It looked like Berlin after the bombing in World War II."
Jenkins accompanied family members of those who were lost that day on trips to see ground zero.
"The city of New York started taking family members to go around Manhattan, get out at Wall Street, and walk to a staging area that was prepared for them to see ground zero," Jenkins said. "When we got there people screamed, some people got sick, one lady I saw pull out clumps of her hair until her scalp bled because this was the only grave many of them were ever going to have. They were looking where their loved one was buried."
Jenkins described several instances where those who were impacted by the tragedy recognized him for the significant role he played in their recovery.
"When you walk into a circumstance like that as a responder of any kind, just your presence, being there, if you go in the name of the lord and you go there to care for people, they experience something way beyond you, they experience God touching them and doing something for them and I saw it time and again back there," Jenkins said.
When Jenkins returned to Cottage Grove, he wanted to do something to honor local first responders.
"We arranged to have a ceremony to honor the first responders," Jenkins said. "They had the old high school then and there was like 600-700 people crammed into that auditorium."