Catholic Military Chaplain Who Witnessed 9/11 Sees Goodness in National Unity 10 Years Later

Shares entries from journal he kept at time of attack on World Trade Center

WASHINGTON, DC—The 10th anniversary of 9/11 carries special personal significance for Father Karl-Albert Lindblad, CHC, USN. As a teenager in high school, the New York City native worked as a messenger boy inside the 110-story World Trade Center (WTC) towers. Years later, as a Catholic priest and U.S. Navy chaplain assigned to the Merchant Marine Academy on Long Island, he watched in horror as the second of the twin towers came down. As the first Navy chaplain on the scene at Ground Zero, Father Lindblad counseled families of victims, used his first-hand knowledge of the WTC’s architectural layout to guide rescuers in their search for survivors, and helped arrange the dispatch of a Navy hospital ship from Baltimore to New York Harbor to treat the injured.

Father Lindblad kept a meticulous journal of his experiences on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 and the days following the terrorist attack. Its descriptions are informative and, at points, riveting, beginning with his log of the first hours after he and other officers at the academy on Long Island Sound at Great Neck learned of trouble in Manhattan.

The following is an excerpt from Father Lindblad’s September 11th entry:

“0846 1st Plane hits WTC.
Weather is clear.
News of plane hitting building; we thought it was accident. We can see the WTC burning from the Chapel steps. We are about 20 miles away from Manhattan with a full view of the New York City Skyline. Proceeded to weekly staff meeting.

“1000 Finish staff meeting, exit. Received reports that a second plane has struck and one of the WTC buildings has collapsed. Word of terrorist attack in process. We see the smoke arising and can still see one of the buildings standing. We are making calls and trying to get information. Hear of the Pentagon attack.

“1015-1100 People are on the grassy plain overlooking the waterfront watching the events unfold. See the second WTC building collapse. I am familiar with the site having done messenger work in lower Manhattan during my high school days. My God, there are over 50,000 people working in those buildings, some of whom I know!”

In a September 13th entry, Father Lindblad describes his experience accompanying a New York Police Department video crew on a return visit to Ground Zero after losing a member of their unit in the tragedy:

“We spend several hours moving about the site. I am visiting with Police, Fire and EMS personnel to pray, hear their stories and visit their wounded. Note these wounded are only those injured during the present day, not when the WTC collapsed. The police film crew is videotaping and explaining to me where their man was running before the collapse, right into the heart of the WTC. The crew seems to be spending a bit extra time just observing the rescue work; they are obviously in grief as well. Volunteers have lined the streets in the distant area to distribute free food to Emergency service workers. The WTC site is surreal. Large tubular (rectangle shaped) steel columns exceeding 30’ in length are impaled like arrows into other buildings. The debris pile is over 5 stories tall from ground level. I also know from my NYC Messenger boy days that the hole is also 6 stories deep, which makes for a total of 11 stories of packed steel, concrete, and dead or dying people. Some of the debris is still burning. Firefighters and construction workers are using a bucket brigade to pass small pieces of debris down in an attempt to avoid further injury to those who are trapped. I notice that there are dozens of shoes strewn around the site. These shoes have obviously flown off peoples’ feet as the buildings collapsed. Strangely they remind me of the shoes at the Holocaust museum in Washington DC. Many workers are using cutting torches to cut the columns of steel and large cranes are lifting them overhead onto flat bed and dump trucks—pick up trashed EMS vehicles like toys and put them in the dump trucks, the huge kind used in ore mining operations. A fire truck pumper has been completely torched down to the steel treads on the wheel rims whose tires have melted off. Various carcasses of blown up cars litter the streets. It is truly a war scene. I recall my days in the Volcano of Mt. Pinatubo which buried our Naval Base at Subic Bay in the Philippines. I think of all the people trapped in the lower mall beneath the WTC praying that some might have escaped through the subway tunnels or be safe in a void. The streets are littered with debris for many blocks around. As we exit the scene even our driver is a bit confused by blocked and rubble filled streets. Fortunately I have walked all these streets many times and am able to direct our vehicle over to the FDR drive.”

Ten years after 9/11, Father Lindblad, now stationed at the Coast Guard Training Center in Yorktown, Virginia, reflects on how the horrific attack affected Americans. “Our country was unjustly struck and suffered a grievous wound,” he says, “unprovoked, unexpected, from an unknown source. And at that time it caused us a lot of emotional reaction, ranging from anger to confusion: Why did somebody do this to us? Who did this to us? What possible reason would someone have to do this to us?”

But the military chaplain also sees the good that came out of an unspeakably evil act—that is, the united spirit it brought out among Americans of different persuasions. He says, “A lot of people came together in a very positive helpful way to help each other, and this is before we did any kind of retaliation, and despite our feelings of vengeance or retribution or whatever you want to call it. I think our country still wants to be united for good, and that endures to this day.”

Father Lindblad is one of approximately 270 priests endorsed by the Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS) to serve as military chaplains in the U.S. armed forces. As the nation’s only archdiocese without geographical boundaries, the AMS endorses priests for on-site ministry at hundreds of locations throughout the country and around the world to Catholics and their families in the U.S. armed forces, VA Medical Centers and overseas civilian posts. Worldwide, an estimated 1.5 million Catholics depend on these priests to serve their spiritual and sacramental needs.