9/11: A helping hand in a time of need

Marie Havenga • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:07 AM

“It’s hard to describe,” said Lipfert, who lived in Cadillac when he was assigned to the New York City disaster. “When I got there, it was very emotional. I arrived around Thanksgiving and basically what I was doing was relieving some of the folks who were there early on.”

Lipfert was assigned to Pier 94, where families gathered to await news of their loved ones. Two months after the tragedy, families still gathered there to grieve and be in the company of others who lost loved ones. 

Lipfert’s assignment was to staff the snack tables, to attempt to provide sustenance to hearts that felt so empty.

Lipfert, now 72, has since retired from the Red Cross and now serves as a senior volunteer for the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department. 

He recalls a woman at Pier 94 who was particularly distraught.

“There’s one lady and her two children that I remember very, very well,” he said. “She had a big sign hanging around her neck with her husband’s name on it. She was still absolutely convinced someday he was going to walk through the door and be there again. She had been told they had found his remains, but she had not accepted that yet. 

“I had the opportunity to speak with her when she came over for a snack,” Lipfert continued. “She was not ready to accept the fact that her husband and the kids’ father had been killed in the attack.”

On weekends, when the family resource center closed, Lipfert fed rescue workers at a respite center near ground zero.

“This was the difficult part of my assignment,” Lipfert recalled. “Many of these men and women desperately wanted to unload some of the horrific things that they were finding as they worked in the rubble of the (World Trade Center) towers. I even spoke to an FBI agent who actually witnessed the second plane hitting the second tower.”

When he arrived for his assignment in New York, Lipfert said firefighters were still pumping water into the area. They would come in from what they referred to as “the pile” to grab a hot meal or a nap.

“They were still digging, and still finding bits and pieces of bodies,” Lipfert said. “Some of the workers were part of the original crew. They lost a lot of their co-workers. They were still grieving, but they were doing their job.”

Lipfert said the crews would describe the horrific smells.

“It was very gruesome,” he said. “They were finding not only whole bodies, but they were finding pieces and parts. ‘Gruesome’ is a word I heard more than once.”

Lipfert, who had volunteered for the Red Cross since 1964, said there was still a slight odor of smoke more than two months after the attacks. Windows were boarded up on nearby buildings; structures that were stained in black from the blast.

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