Chaplain Recalls Life-Changing Moments on 9/11

FALLS TOWNSHIP -- For anyone old enough to understand, you probably remember exactly where you were on September 11, 2001.

A man in Wyoming County doesn't only remember, but was close enough to witness it.

On 9/11, Col. James May was serving as a Senior Army Chaplain of Arlington National Cemetery. He was a farm boy from Pennsylvania who was now witnessing the terrorist attack on the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. His job--and his life--changed for good that day.

"As a chaplain, that's what we were there for, to minister to the families as well as minister to the soldiers who were involved in situations they never expected to be in," said Col. May.

The chaplain was performing a funeral service on the morning of September 11. The National Cemetery overlooks the Pentagon, and it wasn't long after seeing the black plume of smoke that he realized how serious it was.

"Arlington Cemetery closed down because we didn't know what else was going to happen. For the next few days, we were kind of in limbo as far as doing funerals was concerned."

Col. May still looks back at his journal and the notes he took about the events following the 9/11 attacks.

"Throughout the year, for the months that followed, there were victims from the Pentagon who were discovered and then we were involved in doing funerals for them too. I think I was involved in eight or 10 of those victims who worked in the Pentagon."

Col. May was stationed in Arlington until 2003. He says going to work every day from that day on became a totally different experience.

"There was so much involved in commemorating and remembering and dealing with families for several months after that. It was all-encompassing. We were involved to such a great degree."

After he left Arlington in 2003, Col. May spent time in Washington and then Germany. He retired in 2008 and now lives with his wife in Falls, and is a grandfather to 12, sharing his story with them and us about his memories of that horrible day.