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Remembering 9/11: A funeral director called to action

  • Dwight Camp, director of the Cabot Funeral Home in Woodstock, Vt., stands near piles of donated food and water at the armory in New York City on Sept. 14, 2001. Camp is a member of the Disaster Mortuary Operational Rescue Team. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Jennifer Hauck

  • Dwight Camp, of Woodstock, Vt., takes a break from his work with the National Disaster Medical System in New York City on Sept. 14, 2001. Camp spent 5 1/2 months helping to identify human remains following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News file photograph — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Columnist
Published: 9/11/2021 10:20:24 PM
Modified: 9/11/2021 10:20:24 PM

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Dwight Camp hadn’t heard about the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center when duty called.

Within hours of hearing from the National Disaster Medical System, the Woodstock mortician headed for New York.

“It was chaos in the beginning,” Camp recalled. “There was dust and smoke everywhere. The sound of sirens was almost constant.

“I slept on the floor in hotel lobbies for two or three nights, and so did everyone else.”

Camp, whose family started Cabot Funeral Home in 1917, spent 5½ months in New York. The disaster medical system, which Camp joined in the 1980s, consists of doctors, nurses, dentists and other professionals, including funeral directors, who respond to major natural and man-made disasters.

At the World Trade Center, where the death toll reached nearly 2,800, Camp was “part of a massive effort to take human remains from the wreckage and identify victims with pictures, dental records and — if necessary — sophisticated DNA tests,” the Valley News wrote shortly after 9/11.

With refrigerated tractor-trailers lining the streets, Camp assisted medical examiners who were charged with figuring out how each person died.

“There were so many bodies,” Camp said. “I worried about the firefighters who were in there picking through the rubble. I hope they got the help they needed.”

Working out of the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue in the days following 9/11, Camp also helped family members who had relatives still missing. At the armory, people could check the rolls of local hospitals to see if their husband, daughter or another loved one was among the more than 6,000 injured.

If a name wasn’t on the list, chances were they hadn’t made it out of the Twin Towers.

“A lot of people had relatives and friends in those buildings that were now a pile of rubble,” Camp said.

Early on, he overheard a woman asking responders about her late husband, who helped oversee the World Trade Center’s 198 elevators. His body had been recovered, but she didn’t know precisely where inside the two skyscrapers.

Camp told her that he’d try to find out.

It took a day or so, but he was able to match the man’s name with a responders’ photograph that showed him inside an elevator car.

“That’s all she needed to give herself some peace,” Camp said. “She knew her husband had died trying to save people. He had died a hero.”

Camp, who is now 83, has retired from responding to natural disasters that sometimes took him away from home for months at a time. He still helps out, however, at his family’s funeral home.

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