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Pastor recalls 9/11 with congregation


By Alex Welch
Assistant Editor 

  Most Americans can recall the exact place they were when they first witnessed the events that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001. For one local pastor, the scenes of the plane wreckage in Washington, D.C., are easily recalled, because he was on site serving the victims that day.

  Rev. Charles Jackson became the pastor of Mount Bethel United Methodist Church in McDonough in June. His journey to Henry County followed 27 years in the U.S. Army, where his services as a chaplain led him to the Pentagon on 9/11. He said he went to help after the news of the attacks in the nation’s capital were shown on television.

Charles Jackson, the pastor at Mount Bethel United Methodist, lights a candle with church member Helen Busbin to recreate a 9/11 commemoration from Sunday’s service. Jackson was at the Pentagon on that day in 2001.                  Photo by Alex Welch

  “I was at Fort Belvoir in Virginia attending a senior leadership conference,” said Jackson. “I’m a clinically trained hospital chaplain. I trained at Walter Reed Medical Center. So my training kicked in. The first thing I did was go to the hospital at the base.”

  Jackson said he went to the hospital and was told to help with the family assistance center for family members affected by the attacks. After helping in the triage unit, he received the request to head to the Pentagon.

  “The hospital commander said he wanted all chaplains and doctors to report to the Pentagon,” said Jackson. “I got in an ambulance and went with a medical team to the side where the plane had hit, and it was just massive chaos.”

  Firefighters, police officers and government employees were all on the scene, according to Jackson. He said the smoke poured out from the inferno, and it was hard to believe the events taking place.

  “You could see people being pulled out of the Pentagon, and it was unbelievable,” said Jackson. “As a chaplain my job was to go around and provide support and encouragement. It went on for a long time. I stayed there until things settled down.”

  While he kept his composure during his time assisting those in need at the Pentagon, Jackson said he was emotional after leaving. It wasn’t until he read newspaper reports later on that he found out someone he knew was in the Pentagon at the time of the attack.

  “I was looking at the paper; they put all the names of those killed at the Pentagon. It dawned on me that my friend’s name was on that list, Lt. Col. Karen J Wagner,” said Jackson. “So every time 9/11 comes around, I reflect on my time there and her loss.”

  Jackson said he met Wagner, who was a medical officer, while he was in hospital chaplain training at Walter Reed. He said he recently Googled her name and found that a school had been named after Wagner in her hometown.

  As 9/11 approached this year, Jackson decided to tell his congregation about his experience at the Pentagon during a special service on Sunday. He wore his Army uniform and delivered a message about “doing your duty.”

  “The main message is that as citizens, as Christians, we have a duty to God. If we’re not religious, we have a duty to country,” said Jackson. “Every time I got promoted [in the Army], I had to take an oath. I take that seriously, and I feel that as an American, you have the same allegiance. We can support the country in other ways with our service and supporting our leaders.”

  He didn’t plan on giving that message beforehand, so Jackson’s congregation was unaware of what they were about to hear.  He moved the church’s members on Sunday, according to Helen Busbin, who has been attending Mount Bethel UMC since she was 8 years old.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of a minister. He was there, and he made us feel like we were there. It brought back memories of where we all were when it happened,” said Busbin. “He painted the picture so real and so personal. There were not many dry eyes in the congregation. It was very touching.”

  Jackson said he still remembers 9/11 “like it happened yesterday.” He continued to serve in the Army until he retired as a lieutenant colonel in February. While he’s only been in Henry County for a few months, Jackson said the community around this area is patriotic.

  Jackson has been back to the Pentagon to see the 9/11 memorial now in place. He said it helps to see Wagner and the others involved honored, but he won’t ever forget that day.



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