Staff Sgt. Dave Karnes isn't comfortable with people calling him a hero.
But many would consider him just that, because Karnes helped rescue two of the last people to leave the World Trade Center alive on Sept. 11, 2001.
Karnes was one of two people present when the towers collapsed who spoke Sunday at Temple Baptist Church on Rossville Boulevard.
Karnes, a former Marine, told how he helped save two Port Authority police officers' lives.
Karnes was at his job as an accountant in Wilton, Conn., when he learned that planes had struck the twin towers. He decided he was going to head to the area to try to rescue people.
He stopped by a barbershop to get a regulation Marine haircut. Then he put on his military uniform, collected equipment and raced toward New York City. He said he's sure he hit speeds of 130 miles per hour on the way.
"I knew I felt an urgency to get down there," he said.
Officials at ground zero tried to stop him from going into the inferno, saying he would die. But he just kept going.
"I listened to what God told me," he said.
Karnes and another Marine walked the area, calling out. Then he heard muffled calls for help and found the Port Authority police officers.
Karnes called his wife and his sister and gave them information so that they could call for backup. About 15 to 20 minutes later, the first helper arrived.
The two men were rescued, and Karnes said, "God has given them a full recovery."
Throughout that entire day, Karnes said, he felt as if he was following God's plan and he looked to God for guidance. He encouraged others to do the same.
"Tell God, 'Use me. I'm ready to die in your service,'" he said.
He read passages from the New Testament and encouraged people in the crowd to be saved.
"Nine/eleven showed every one of us the urgency of getting out the gospel," he said.
Earlier, Sujo John, who spoke during Temple's morning service, said surviving the 9/11 attack also saved his soul.
John was on the 81st floor of the north tower when the jet struck 10 stories above him.
About an hour before, he'd looked out the window of his office at the Statue of Liberty and thought how blessed he was. He'd left his native India with two bags and $50. Now with two degrees in business, he worked in one tower and his wife, four months pregnant with their first child, had a good job on the 71st floor of the other tower.
But he said he found himself wondering that morning if he shouldn't be doing more for God.
"I decided to put my thoughts in an email, and at 8:05 I wrote to a friend, 'I want God to use me. Will you pray for me?'"
"God reads email," he quipped, eliciting smiles from the audience of several hundred.
When the hijacked airliner struck, he said, "I thought I would never see my wife again and would never know my unborn child."
It took him an hour and 20 minutes to make his way down to the street, littered with the bodies of people who jumped from the flames. When the south tower began collapsing, "that's where I was confronted with my own mortality," he said.
After he dug out from several feet of dust and debris, his cell phone rang. His wife had been delayed on her way to work and wasn't in the tower.
"This day changed my life," he said. "I said, 'I'm done with corporate America. I want to be a preacher and bring Christ to people.'"
He invited his audience to help him spread Christianity.
"America is guilty of soft-pedaling the gospel," he said. "I didn't come here to tell the story of 9/11, but I used it to get your attention."
Throughout John's fundamentalist and often fiery message, he told the congregation that America is blessed because it had a Christian foundation.
Shad Smith, Temple pastor, called John's story a powerful living testimony.
"Like the Bible says, 'All things work together for them that know God,'" Smith said.
Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...