Rank and race disappeared on September 11, 2001, at the Pentagon and at Ground Zero in New York in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks.

The fire chief in charge of the recovery process at the Pentagon made an announcement around 4 o’clock p.m.

“’We need volunteers to put on masks and gloves and be willing to do a sweep through the Pentagon. Any volunteers?’ People ran to get a place in line,” recalled Charlie Baldwin, Air Force deputy chief of chaplains at the time.

“So here we were in line. Next to me was a two-star general, and I was a one-star general. We’re standing in our blues. We stepped forward, put on gloves, put on the masks. They gave us the instructions to stay together in rows, and we were going to sweep through the building and walk through the clouds of fire, dust and all that. And just before he said, ‘OK, this line step forward,’ a brigade from Arlington Cemetery pulled up in buses.”

Because this brigade was trained and ready to do a sweep, the fire chief released the volunteers.

“I looked around and saw the field full of people who were willing to step into the fiery furnace to go and see if somebody else could be pulled out. So we stepped away and went back to the areas where we could be helpful, be the pastors present.”

Baldwin noticed that all hands were on deck, rank had disappeared.

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