On Sept. 11, 2001, a brief encounter between two chaplains stuck with them forever. Sixteen years later, they were finally reunited as part of a PBS series airing Tuesday night.
Then-Army Capt. Timothy Mallard, now a colonel, and then-Coast Guard Cmdr. Doug Waite, now a retired Navy captain, were called to the Pentagon after one of the hijacked planes crashed into the building near Washington, D.C.
The two chaplains had never met - Mallard was assigned to the Pentagon as an intern, and Waite was stationed at the former Coast Guard headquarters at Buzzard Point in D.C.
Neither one was at work when the attack unfolded, but they rushed to the scene.
"In my own mind, I think of it as a combat site," Mallard told Military Times, adding that it was an active incident site for about three weeks.
Everyone took turns working day shifts and night shifts. During one of Mallard's shifts, someone from the Federal Emergency Management Agency team ran into the chaplain tent and told Mallard they needed him.
He went out to find a search-and-rescue team who wouldn't go back into the building until Mallard talked to them.
"You talk about feeling overwhelmed and inadequate," he said. "I was trying to get them to share their experiences and concerns and fears, but there was still a point where I felt like I just wasn't connecting."
Mallard had a Bible in his pocket and started reading through Psalm 23.
"When I got to the point in that psalm where David says walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I looked to my right at the building. There was just this black gaping hole," he said.
He finished the psalm, and the group locked arms and prayed.
"They said, 'OK chaplain, now we're ready.' "
Mallard went back to the chaplain tent, where he said his grief overwhelmed him.
"I went in the corner and just fell down crying and weeping," he said. M
allard didn't know it, but Waite was also in the tent.
"I put my arm around him, let him cry, held him," Waite said, adding that he tried to remind Mallard that the Lord was going to take care of them and help them get through this. "He seemed to be better."
"I remember so much of his radiant presence and kindness," Mallard said. "He ministered to me and said a quick prayer for me, and that allowed me to go back out."
The two chaplains wouldn't see each other again for 16 years.
The producers tracked down Mallard and reunited the chaplains in November at the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York City, in a church near Ground Zero that hadn't been destroyed.
"You're kind of nervous and anxious and yet you want to move forward," Mallard said of seeing Waite for the first time in 16 years. "But I saw his face, and I thought, 'Oh my God, that's the face I remember.' All those years ago in the dark, just smiling at me."
Mallard said it was a real blessing to connect with Waite and thank him.
"I never had the opportunity to do that, and that was important," Mallard said.
Waite said he was happy to find out Mallard was assigned to the Army's Chaplain Corps at the Pentagon.
"You just don't know when you reach out to somebody who's in distress the impact that's going to have on them," he said.