“Questions swirled in our minds: why did these terrorists do such an evil thing? Where was God? . . . A firefighter who saves lives should not be dead, but he was—his annihilation caused by terrorists who cared nothing about the sanctity of human life . . . Firefighters, police officers, and recovery workers were saddened by this death; but their determination remained strong. Americans cannot forget this tragic scene, ever. These firefighters will not have died in vain if America always remembers what happened on September 11. 2001.”
Excerpt from Bob Ossler’s book, Triumph Over Terror, w/Janice Hall Heck
Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.
Chaplain Bob Ossler served five tours of duty at Ground Zero in the aftermath of the terror attack and destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11. His peculiar training as a firefighter, paramedic, mortician, and ordained minister substantially prepared him to serve in a setting that no one is ever really prepared to experience.
What he witnessed there in recovering the remains of the thousands of souls who perished in the ash heap, is seared into his mind and heart. He ministered solace and comfort to the mourning community of volunteer and neighbors toiling to restore order from the destructive chaos. Stepping into the skin of the workers and their pain, Chaplain Bob, sought to be the ministry of Jesus in the lives of everyone he met there.
Fourteen years later he attended the writer’s group I co-lead with seasoned editor Janice Hall Heck. “I think I need to write a book,” he said, “but, I’m not much of a writer.”
He’s a storyteller.
In that May 2015 writer’s meeting, he shared a couple of his 9/11 tales in a soft, breathy delivery. Jan and I dropped our jaws in amazement, emotionally transported by his imagery. His powerful words drew us into the heart-rending moments of the people he met, the things he saw, and the jobs he performed, with a mix of wonder, horror, and fascination.
“You must write this book, Bob,” we encouraged him. This was an important book that should find a reading audience—especially in these turbulent times where terrorism is more prevalent than ever.
Jan committed to work closely with him to the purpose.
I had the privilege of spending the early days of this book project on the phone with Bob, encouraging him as he began the mind dump of long buried memories. Often he ran a story past me and I’d be dumbstruck at the powerful image it conjured, and the pain evoked in my heart. “Did you send that story to Janice?” I’d ask.
“No. I thought it might be too much. Too brutal to share and read.”
“You must include it.” I’d say. But, Bob was not convinced.
We attended the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writer’s Conference in the summer of 2015 with Jan’s book proposal of the work, including about thirty stories in a first draft to show editors and authors for review.
Bob was hesitant because he knew the chambers that would be opened were he to share some of the more horrifying images. There’d be an emotional toll on his own tender heart to relive those moments in exact language. Bravely, he turned the key to memory and his words poured onto the page, mingling both tears and insight.
A year later, thanks to the vision of Scoti Domeij of Blackside Publishing, and the long, tedious hours of editorial manuscript work by co-author, Janice Hall Heck, Bob’s Triumph Over Terror has released just ahead of the 15th anniversary of 9/11.
Triumph Over Terror has been a cathartic exercise for Bob. In the process of liberating his experiences at Ground Zero in detail, he created a healing work to help others purge pain and trauma in their lives. Each tale of an isolated incident closes with a glorious testimony of God’s tender mercies in the midst of tragedy.
Bob’s stories are the raw truth of the painful moments he walked through, along with the workers and volunteers who served by his side in the clean-up and recovery efforts. It is a first person documentation in memory of the souls found in the ruins—and the survivors. The horrid sights, smells, and sounds they worked in each day on the “Pile” reminds us that sin stinks and should have no place in civil societies. It gives us a sense of what the enemy looks like and what we must never allow ourselves to become desensitized to. Never Forget.
In an early chapter, Bob likens the initial sight of the tower ruins to a Hollywood disaster movie set. Some sections are difficult to read due to the scenes described—until you get to the redemption part.
You see, every short chapter story of an encounter on the Pile, ends with the grace of God and light in the darkness. Hope in the face of evil rises to the surface, leaving the reader with a firmer grasp of reality in both the spiritual and material world.
Bob’s presence on the Pile crossed over the terror element with a more powerful triumph factor. In the wake of painful encounters, God showed up every time and, in some way, turned the tide one life at a time.
Jesus arrived in this world, getting down and dirty with us in our painful suffering. The presence of God walked and talked in the waste Pile of man, powerful to redeem and heal—though scars remain. The events of 9/11 scarred a nation. They’ve left their mark on Chaplain Bob. He’s in good company there. The resurrected Jesus showed His scars and wore them as badges of honor, awarded by God the Father, proof of the pleasing work accomplished at the crossroad of terror and triumph 2000 years ago.
Chaplain Bob wants to tell his story–so others can find healing in God’s Story.
Chaplain Bob Ossler’s five tours of duty in the dark place of terror’s aftermath, produced scars, now turned to the light of redemption in his book, Triumph Over Terror. Janice Hall Heck provided expert and meticulous attention to editing his written narratives, arranging them into chronological and thematic chapters. The result is both a primary source account of an important historical event, as well as a manual for anyone desiring to know the different ways God can minister to hearts in crisis, struggling through loss, grief, and trauma.
I believe this is a vital read for every American. But, anyone seeking God to lift them into a place of triumph over troublesome times in their lives will find answers here, too. Grief counselors and ministers should make place on their resource bookshelf for this book, as well.
For my part, I’m making sure my loved ones receive signed copies of Triumph Over Terror. I am proud to have played a very small part in bringing it to print.
Sharing Book Review: Triumph Over Tragedy this week with: