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20 YEARS LATER: Salvation Army Major remembers 9/11 disaster response

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- This weekend the country will remember lives lost too soon and the first responders who made the ultimate sacrifice. While that day will forever be burned into American history, one Rochester man will remember his time helping New York City's recovery.

"It's something that I will never, ever forget. Even 20 years later," Major Bob Mueller of Rochester Salvation Army said.

Maj. Mueller was one of the 100,000 Salvation Army employees and volunteers that helped with 9/11 disaster relief. Between those who answered the call for help, more than five million meals were served. In the two weeks Mueller was in New York City, he and his teammates set up camp in what he described as a "hydration shack." It was a place where construction workers could take a break.

"My primary audience was construction workers. We often forget about the guys that had to clean up the mess afterwards. And that was sort of my role," he said.

Mueller served a unique role. He was a chaplain, praying and providing spiritual and emotional support to folks cleaning up at ground zero. Mueller arrived seven months after the day of the terror attacks -- and still months later he described an unbelievable scene.

"Every morning, I would go behind the shack, which was stationed right at ground zero, and watch the firemen, watch the police men as they raked through the dust and debris that was left," he said. "Seven months later, still looking for evidence of their fallen comrades. It was a chilling experience to watch them bend down, look at it, toss it to the side or put it in their pocket."

Mueller remembers one man in particular: a construction worker who he quickly developed a relationship with. This man would typically stop by after every shift to say goodbye.

"One Friday he said, 'hey, I won't see you this weekend. I worked every single day since the disaster struck, and they are giving me the weekend off,'" Mueller recalled. "...Monday morning I show up and there was a newspaper article nailed to the shack with a picture of this construction worker. He was riding his motorcycle, hit a patch of pebbles, smashed into a tree and he died."

He urges everyone to remember all efforts during -- and after -- 9/11.

"We mustn't forget our fallen heroes. We mustn't forget the families and the victims. We also must never forget the workers, the volunteers who came and those who came in, helped the mess and aftermath in 9/11," he said.

Throughout his career with the Salvation Army, Mueller has responded to tornado disasters, flooding, fires and even three deployments to Hurricane Katrina recovery. But, he says his time on ground zero, will always stand out. Mueller says it's taught him a valuable lesson, too.

"Death comes unexpectedly and we have to be prepared," he said. "And cherish each day that we have on Earth."

Beret Leone

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