Friendship forged in fire
- Ray Pitz
- Beaverton Valley Times - News
'Officers that were there that day, they will never forget'
Five years ago, in the midst of smoldering tragedy, Beaverton Police Department chaplain Wally Johnston forged a friendship with one of New York's Finest.
A Bible brought them together. Today, that friendship is as strong as ever.
Johnston arrived in Manhattan three months after the worst terrorist attack on American soil that took more than 2,000 lives.
As the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, is commemorated Monday, Johnston recalled the time he spent in New York City where he and four other members of the Metro Police Chaplaincy traveled.
Their December 2001 trip was designed to reach out to police and firefighters affected in the tragedy's aftermath. It was there that he met New York City Police Officer Arnold Chow and began a friendship that has lasted since.
Officer Chow, then 31, had just completed his regular shift at 4 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, only to be awakened a short time later with the news the World Trade Center's Twin Towers had collapsed.
Because of the blocked roads, it took Chow, assigned to the 79th Precinct in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of northern Brooklyn, several hours to make it to his precinct.
'I didn't get here until almost 11 o'clock,' recalled Chow.
Posted on the Brooklyn side of the Manhattan Bridge, Chow guided people streaming in from Manhattan, talking to those who spoke Cantonese or referring them to nearby Asian officers who could explain the situation in their native tongues.
'During 9/11, a lot of Asians didn't know what was going on,' Chow recalled of the chaotic scene. 'People didn't know why they were going across.'
During his 18-hour shift, Chow recalls that many of the New Yorkers he came in contact with that day were dizzy or suffering from heat exhaustion, with many walking as far as 30 miles before reaching the bridge.
However, the officers' job was to make sure a passage was clear for those headed out of the city.
'We couldn't provide them with water or any assistance,' said Chow. 'It was confusion.'
When Chaplain Johnston arrived at the Metro Tech Center, New York City's main emergency dispatch center, he recalled seeing an armed NYPD officer in front of the building. That officer was Chow.
Johnston, 53, who has been associated with the Beaverton Police Department for 12 years, was in New York mostly to provide words of encouragement to police and emergency workers, along with handing out 'God's Word for Peace Officers,' a memorial Bible distributed to New York City police officers and Port Authority police.
'We identified ourselves and started talking,' Johnston said of his first encounter with Chow. 'He wanted a Bible.'
Chow said he was grateful that Johnston and the others were showing support for officers.
'I couldn't thank him enough,' said Chow, an eight-year veteran of the force.
Johnston said about 8,000 of the limited edition Bibles for police were distributed throughout the Big Apple in the aftermath of Sept. 11. The front of the bible includes a photo of a cross poking through a massive amount of rubble left by Building 6.
'I think we handed out 1,500 copies that one week we were there,' said Johnston.
So impressed were police with the chaplains that they provided an officer and police van to help with distribution of the Bibles at NYPD police headquarters.
Among those who received at least one of the special Bibles was President Bush. A Port Authority officer visited the White House and handed it to a Secret Service agent.
'He said, 'I'll be sure the president gets this,' ' Johnston said the officer reported.
Johnston and his companions also visited the Port Authority Police, a force about the size of the Portland Police Bureau, who lost 37 officers on Sept. 11.
Since the agency lost more officers per capita than the NYPD, Johnston wanted to make sure someone was attending to their needs.
As a result, he wrote and distributed a pamphlet, 'A Special Message to the Port Authority Police of New York and New Jersey.'
'It's basically about how to take care of yourself,' said Johnston.
The pamphlet begins, 'You're a special breed…'
The back lists Port Authority Police who lost their lives on Sept. 11.
On one occasion, Johnston and the chaplains went to FAO Schwarz toy store where they met Port Authority officers, their families and children.
One officer examined the pamphlet, searching the names of the deceased officers.
'He points to (the name) Bruce Reynolds on the back (and says) 'that was my partner,' ' said Johnston, noting that Reynolds' children were in the store with the officer at the same time.
Although Port Authority officers were initially reluctant to share experiences related to 9/11, they later warmed up.
'We had dinner with the Port Authority Police at Ground Zero the night before we left,' said Johnston. 'You could tell they'd really been going through it ... a little reserved but opening up.'
Before he left, Johnston was given a 'WTC' collar brass, usually reserved only for those Port Authority officers who worked at Ground Zero.
Johnston also paid a visit to the Tin House Fire Station. Initially reluctant to allow the chaplains inside, they eventually were welcomed in.
'And then it got to the part where they said, 'do you want to go to the roof?' ' recalled Johnston, pointing out that the roof overlooks Ground Zero. 'It's like holy ground to them.'
By the end of their visit, the atmosphere was one of trust, something that was evident.
'This same guy, who didn't want to let us in, gave us each a hug,' he said.
Last summer, Officer Chow visited Johnston for a week at his Beaverton home. This summer, Chow and his family spent a month with Johnston. Chow even helped Johnston build a new deck.
Chow sums up his relationship with Johnston as one of deep friendship, calling Johnston a great individual and great person.
In turn, Johnston calls Chow, 'a very courteous, thoughtful, pretty-faithful-servant-type guy,' said Johnston.
At Johnston's home last month, Chow pulled out a treasured item, a New York City Police Department silver badge containing a familiar black 'mourning band' stretched across the front containing the words 'NYPD 9-11.'
Only officers who served on the day of the attacks have the badges with the black bands, said Chow, who wears it around his neck on a chain along with his regular-issued shirt badge as well.
'To this day, the officers that were there that day, they will never forget,' said Chow.
On Sunday from 6 to 8 p.m., Wally Johnston will be at the Beaverton Nazarene Church for 'Reflections of 9/11,' a time to look back at the event that changed the world five years ago.
On Monday, Sept. 11's sad anniversary, Chow will join his fellow officers at the exact moment of the attacks in a special tribute.
'The officers will stop wherever they're at, get out of their cars, put on their flashers, face the World Trade Center and pay tribute,' said Chow.
In May, Johnston will travel to Washington, D.C., joining the Beaverton Police Honor Guard for an annual event that pays tribute to all the officers throughout the nation who died in the line of duty in 2006. He also wants to visit his friend.
'What my plan is to take a bus to New York, meet with Arnie (Chow) and spend a few days there.'