By Tracy Haney/Managing editor

When Debbie Hoskins remembers Sept. 11, she sees more than the images on television or photos in the newspaper. She remembers what it was like to stand in the rubble of the World Trade Center and talk with the victims and their families shortly after the terrorist attacks.

“I felt it was my duty to do something,” Hoskins said. “I had never had the opportunity to really make a difference.”

Hoskins, a public administration graduate student from Lancaster, spent four days in the beginning of October 2001 as a volunteer to relief efforts in New York through the Salvation Army. Two of those days were spent in a warehouse helping those impacted by Sept. 11 pay bills through donated funds. The remaining two days, Hoskins spent at Ground Zero working alongside the New York firefighters digging through remains.

Hoskins said the most memorable part of working at Ground Zero was the odor, comparing it to the smell of a crematorium.

Remains of victims were still being found when Hoskins worked at Ground Zero. She recalls one instance in particular when a woman’s arm was found in the rubble clutching a purse. Hoskins said when remains were found, all of the machines shut down and volunteers stopped working.

“They showed total respect for the memory of those people,” Hoskins said.

Besides helping with physical labor, Hoskins said she was happy her talking with the firefighters, who had been working around the clock since Sept. 11, could provide some relief.

“For them to sit with somebody from the south was a real treat,” she said.

Hoskins went to New York with two other women, Sue Ballard and Gwen Howard, from her church in Lancaster.

“We had no clue what to expect,” Hoskins said. “We couldn’t wait.”

In the four days they spent in New York, the three got a total of 16 hours of sleep.

“I don’t think a lot of people realize the enormity of what happened in that city on Sept. 11,” Hoskins said, adding there were some positives to come out of the tragedy.

“We gained insight into what could happen,” Hoskins said. “It has made us stronger, more united and more perceptive to (terrorist attacks).”

Although Hoskins was unable to attend the anniversary of Sept. 11 in New York City this year, she plans to be there as many years in the future as she can.

“It’s like a mission of mine to be there on Sept. 11,” Hoskins said, adding she hopes other Americans will “never forget” the tragedy that struck our country three years ago.

Reach Tracy at

tracy_haney5@eku.edu