Pastor Bill Wrede, left, poses for a picture with first responders near an on-site morgue at ground zero sometime after Jan. 1, 2002. He was living in Long Island and arrived at the World Trade Center site on the morning of 9/11. Eighteen years later, he spoke at Trinity Lutheran Church in Utica Sept. 11.

Pastor Bill Wrede, left, poses for a picture with first responders near an on-site morgue at ground zero sometime after Jan. 1, 2002. He was living in Long Island and arrived at the World Trade Center site on the morning of 9/11. Eighteen years later, he spoke at Trinity Lutheran Church in Utica Sept. 11.

Photo provided by Bill Wrede


Pastor shares 9/11 story in Utica

By: Alex Szwarc | Shelby - Utica News | Published September 16, 2019

Advertisement

UTICA — When Bill Wrede saw a gaping hole in the north tower of the World Trade Center, he knew it had to have been a major aircraft.

The 59-year-old pastor was living in Long Island in September 2001 and arrived at the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan on the morning of 9/11.

He spoke for over an hour at Trinity Lutheran Church in Utica on Sept. 11 last week to a captivated audience, sharing stories of bravery, patriotism and faith.  

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, prior to the first plane striking the north tower at 8:46 a.m., Wrede was driving back from a grocery store, listening to the radio.

“I heard a plane had hit the World Trade Center,” he said. “All I could think of was, ‘How sad.’”

At that point, Wrede was hearing that it might have been a smaller plane.

“When I saw that gaping hole, I knew it had to be a major aircraft,” he said.

While watching TV, wondering how that could have happened, Wrede saw a second plane hit the south tower at 9:03 a.m. He asked himself if there was a response to those actions.

He then called his district president and told him what had happened and asked if this was a time for him to go and offer assistance, or stay out of the way.

Wrede was given the green light to try to help, if he could find a way to lower Manhattan.

Knowing that taking a train wouldn’t work, Wrede drove the Long Island Expressway, notorious for heavy traffic. He made it into Queens and parked roughly 11 miles northeast of the World Trade Center complex. Wearing a clerical shirt with dress pants, Wrede walked back to the expressway to see if he could get a ride.

He hitched a ride with an FBI agent and was yet to cross into Manhattan from Queens when he saw the south tower collapse at 9:59 a.m.

“My mouth went absolutely dry and I said, ‘It’s gone,’” he said.

Wrede was at Church and Chambers streets, four blocks from the north tower, when it collapsed at 10:28 a.m. At that time, he was hugging a woman and praying with her when he  heard a rumble.

“People yelled, ‘It’s falling,’ and everyone started to run up Church Street,” Wrede said. “I had a handkerchief with me, and we made it about one block before we were overcome with the debris cloud.”

Making his way to West Street, everywhere he looked, Wrede saw uniformed firefighters and police officers waiting to walk down the street and look for survivors. Wrede was asked to bless those about to head into the worst of the destruction.

“They were getting ready to go in, and at that moment I saw a firefighter coming toward me from the site,” he said. “He told me, ‘Father, they’re all dead. There’s no one left.’”

The firefighter was at the base of one of the towers, but prior to it collapsing, he had witnessed several people jumping from the tower.

As he blessed the first responders, Wrede would anoint them with oil and place his hand on them and say, “The Lord God bless you as you serve him today.”

Wrede remained at the site until around 9:30 p.m. and got on the Long Island Rail Road.

“There was only one other person with me on the subway,” Wrede recalled.

The gentleman told Wrede that he had been on the 16th floor of the north tower when it was struck.

A couple of memories stick with Wrede to this day of the time when he got off the train and went back to his car. One is seeing the parking lot, which should have been empty by that hour, full of cars.

“People that weren’t coming home,” he said. “It was eerie.”

Another memory from that night was that once he was in his car and driving back home, he saw several large American flags unfurled from overpasses along the expressway.

For a month after 9/11, Wrede went back to work at his church. Around mid-October, he was called back to serve as a chaplain at the temporary morgue at ground zero. He worked there until June 2002. This was in addition to his responsibilities at his church.

The Rev. Chris Troxel, of Trinity Lutheran Church, has known Wrede since 2011.

“I was thinking about going to the seminary and went to Ann Arbor and met him,” he said.

During Troxel’s time at the seminary, he got to know his story and saw Wrede speak a few times.

“It’s a fantastic story and an unbelievable tragedy,” Troxel said.

After being at ground zero for about eight months, Wrede went through critical incident debriefing due to the nature of what he had experienced.

Advertisement