With the passing of Veteran’s Day each year, 73-year-old Rick Ianniello, is oftentimes reminded of the bloodshed and sacrifice soldiers make to defend their country.
The Raymore resident was already a veteran who served abroad before his military work would once aid a tragedy at home.
“A veteran is an individual who voluntarily serves,” Ianniello said. “They voluntarily serve, but in the back in their mind, there is the knowledge that they could die.”
Ianniello was a chaplain serving with the New Jersey Navy Militia on Sept. 11, 2001. Hours after the planes crashed into the towers, Ianniello experienced the devastation of Ground Zero with his own eyes.
The day America was attacked would become like no other in his life as Ianniello was sitting inside of his office at Fort Dix, N.J.
At about 9 a.m., the secretary of the New Jersey National Guard’s Chief of Staff came running into his office, asking him to come look at the TV.
“When I got to her office, the TV was showing a plane crashing into the World Trade Center building,” Ianniello described. “I thought it was a movie that she was watching.”
The secretary quickly informed him that the events unfolding on the television were in fact real and that the United States was under attack.
Later in the morning, the United States Pentagon would also be struck, and another plane planning to cause strife would crash into a Pennsylvania field.
On that day, 3,000 people were killed – civilians, police officers, firemen and paramedics innocently died.
Their families, along with the rest of the country that day, became victims of terrorism on their home front. A land of prosperity had been met with evil.
By 5 p.m., members of the Naval Militia and National Guard were called by the approval of the Governor of New York and were ordered to respond to the destruction where the Twin Towers once stood.
Ianniello, then 61, arrived the next day.
Pictures that had been aired on TV did little justice to the heart of the city that had been leveled by the act of terrorism, Ianniello recalled.
“I saw firsthand the carnage and devastation caused by a few,” he said.
Ianniello was quick to get to work, comforting those who were hurting either because their loved ones were missing or had been killed.
“I remember a young mother with two small children who stopped me and showed me a picture of her husband, asking if I had seen him,” he recalled.
A fireman relayed a story to Ianniello about how he, his son, and son-in-law were all in the same fire company and were in one of the towers together when it was hit.
“He got out but they didn’t,” Ianniello said. “In a matter of seconds, his family was devastated.”
These were the stories that were played out over and over again, Ianniello said.
As chaplains worked together to bring comfort to the situation, they distributed Bibles and literature to individuals, organized church services for the troops, and offered counseling to those in need.
Not only did chaplains respond to the needs among military men and women, they also aided members of the police force, fire departments, civilian workers, survivors and grieving families.
“I remember hearing the same question over and over, ‘Where was God,’” Ianniello recalled. “To be honest, that thought also came into my mind. But I also remember seeing the cross that had been formed by the steel girders of one of the collapsed towers (and) how people gathered at all hours of the day and night at the cross to pray.”
Being a firm believer in Christ, Ianniello realized God was right in their midst.
“(God) was with the chaplains who milled amongst the workers comforting them, praying, and sharing His love with them,” Ianniello said.
As a veteran, having served in Vietnam with the United States Air Force as a young man, and again, with the National Guard and Civil Air Patrol, before joining the state militia prior to 9/11, Ianniello understood the cost of freedom.
“This was a time I could never forget,” he said of 9/11. “It was my ‘Alamo,’ my ‘Pearl Harbor.’ There are times I think about it and still get teary-eyed.”
Following his military service with the Air Force and the National Guard, Ianniello graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University in New Jersey, and his Master’s in biblical theology from Miami Christian University in Florida.
He then received chaplain endorsement through the Assemblies of God denomination.
Ianniello now serves as a senior adult/care pastor at Belton Assembly of God.
But as he will forever be a veteran, Ianniello likes to share a poem, “The Soldier,” by Charles M. Province, which talks about the willingness a soldier has to lay down his life in order to defend freedoms.
“A veteran is an individual who voluntarily serves, but in the back in their mind, there is the knowledge that they could die…to willingly pay the ultimate price if necessary,” he said.
“It is the Soldier, not the minister
Who has given us freedom of religion.
It is the Soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the Soldier, not the poet
Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer
Who has given us freedom to protest.
It is the Soldier, not the lawyer
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the Soldier, not the politician
Who has given us the right to vote.
It is the Soldier who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.”
-Charles M. Province