Buford Man Reflects On Helping 9/11 Victims

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BUFORD -- America watched with horror as the broadcast images of terrorist strikes in Lower Manhattan claimed the lives of many 10 years ago.

The twin towers of the World Trade Center exploded with fire and tumbled to the ground.

Unlike others who witnessed the macabre spectacle through television or radio broadcast, Buford resident Donald Trantow just weeks later was physically standing blocks away from Ground Zero.

At a glance

While working disaster relief near Ground Zero, Buford resident Donald Trantow kept a journal. The following is an excerpt:

American Airlines Flight 11, United Airlines Flight 175, tour of duty Oct. 26-Nov. 17, 2001 at Red Cross Center on Canal Street:

"Many were really affected by the tragedy. One day a distinguished-looking gentleman passed by while I was working the outside line and asked me what the line was for. As I told him, he gazed at the skyline directly where the Twin Towers had stood, and tears came to his eyes and his lips quivered. I passed him off to one of our mental health workers, who sat for a time with him on a bench nearby and learned that he was a professional photographer from France who many years ago had traveled to NYC to photograph the World Trade Center Twin Towers."

His 10-month service tour with AmeriCorps had begun only days before 9/11. As a member of the federal government's system of public safety and environmental clean-up corps, Trantow flew to New York City a month later to assist the American Red Cross.

He was 70 then, the oldest AmeriCorps member in the National Preparedness and Response group of the Atlanta Red Cross who went to assist, according to Kate Enos, press secretary for the Corporation for National and Community Service, the umbrella group for AmeriCorps.

Stationed at the American Red Cross Family Services Center on Canal Street in Lower Manhattan, Trantow found himself overwhelmed by emotion.

"I was caught up in the tragedy of it all when I first got there.I was in awe, seeing the destruction and how many people perished."

Trantow joined others from the Atlanta Red Cross who relocated to the New York City location, where they served as disaster relief workers, helping those affected by arranging for motels, clothing and food.

He served as an assistant coordinator at the American Red Cross Family Services Center. He helped manage the facility to ensure victims got the assistance they needed.

"I talked to victims their lives were totally devastated," he said. "I thought to myself 'I don't know what I would do in their shoes.' But people were going on."

Each person would speak with a family service manager, who would listen to their needs and provide vouchers and checks to pay for rent, utility bills and groceries.

Trantow served for three weeks on his first trip to New York City and returned again in January 2002 to serve as main coordinator.

"The American Red Cross understood the emotional toll the tragedy had on volunteers and had mental health workers assigned to staff at the Red Cross and would only allow us to work three weeks at a time to avoid burnout," he said.

Now, 80 years old, Trantow reflects on the time.

"It was such a senseless thing...so useless what happened to so many good people," he said.

"A lot of people were displaced and their jobs were gone. We worked hard to help those affected by the tragedy receive support to put food on the table for their families and help pay for a new apartment."

Trantow kept a journal during his three-week stints near Ground Zero.

In the journal, he detailed the days of assisting those who had been displaced by the tragedy.