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Four Chaplains Day is observed annually on or around February 3, commemorating four World War II chaplains who died rescuing civilians and military personnel when the SS Dorchester was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine off the coast of Newfoundland. In the spirit of the heroism that defines Four Chaplains Day, we remember Bill Barton, a disaster chaplain at both the Pentagon and Ground Zero, whose own bravery brought comfort and hope to the site of the attacks.
Bill Barton was 70 years old at the time of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. He'd served in the U.S. military and as a firefighter, police chaplain, and disaster chaplain with the American Red Cross, so it came as no surprise to his family and colleagues that he responded to the Pentagon soon after it was struck.
According to his daughter, Kathy Ripley, Barton served as a disaster chaplain at the site of the Pentagon attack, joined by many other ministers of different faiths. Together, these men and women provided support to survivors, responders, and volunteers, guiding them with faith and reassurance through the difficult days that followed. Ripley recalls in particular one story Barton had shared with her: upon noticing a member of the military in tears at the sight of the American flag draped over the Pentagon, Barton began singing “God Bless America.” Others nearby joined in.
After less than a week of down time, Barton was called to Ground Zero to bless victims and offer prayers. He was given a mask and a respirator, but didn't always wear them because he felt they impaired his ability to communicate during emotional moments.
Barton passed away in 2019. The American Red Cross organization commended his efforts on the attack sites, saying “…he became an icon of compassion and strength, a focus of hope and courage.”
His bunker jacket, worn at both 9/11 terrorist attack sites, is currently part of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum collection.
By 9/11 Memorial Staff