Fifteen years later, we remember most the ordinary heroes. We tell our children about them. America is best, we say, when we all pull together.
We remember Welles Crowther, 24, who was working as an equities trader on the 104th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. He had always wanted to be a firefighter, and he kept a red bandanna, a gift from his father years ago, in a back pocket. “You’ll always have it if you need it,” his father had told him.
Crowther held the red bandanna over his face as he climbed up and down the stairs of burning and collapsing building, carrying and guiding others to safety. He could have run out and stayed out, says journalist Tom Rinaldi, who has written a book about Crowther, but he decided to become a firefighter that day.
“I see this incredible hero, running back and forth and saving the day,” Judy Wein, one of the many people he rescued, told CNN. “In his mind, he had a duty to do — to save people.”
Crowther’s body later was found in the lobby of the destroyed building, among the bodies of firefighters.
We remember Tom Burnett, a businessman who was aboard United Airlines Flight 93. When hijackers took over the plane, he called his wife and reportedly said, “I know we’re going to die. There’s three of us who are going to do something about it.”
When another passenger, Todd Beamer, said “Let’s roll!” Burnett and the others rushed the hijackers.
The plane crashed in a Pennsylvania field. Everybody died. But the terrorists failed in their mission to fly the plane into a target — perhaps the White House — in Washington.
We remember New York Police Officer Moira Smith, 39, who ran in and out of the World Trade Center again and again to carry people out. Told she had done enough, according to Newsday and others, she rushed back in one more time.
She left behind a two-year-0ld daughter, Patricia.
We remember Jason Thomas, a law student and former Marine, who actually ran toward the explosions — not away — that morning. As reported by Anderson Cooper of CNN, Thomas dug through the rubble for hours, even after rescue efforts were called off by city officials because the ruins were unstable, and found and saved two Port Authority officers who were 30 feet below ground level, crushed by concrete.
We remember everything about that day — the fury and the fear, the anguish and the backlash. We remember those who rose to the occasion on that day and in the weeks that followed, and those who did not.
But mostly we remember the heroes, hundreds of them, who did not pick and choose who to rescue based on color, religion or nationality.
They didn’t care, we tell our children, and neither should we.
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