9/11 Heroes: Amazing Stories Of The Ones We Don't Hear About That Often
On September 11, 2011, the world came to a standstill when the Twin Towers were destroyed in one of the most heartbreaking acts of terrorism since Pearl Harbor. Nearly 3,000 people died due to the events of the 9/11, and thousands more were injured from the fallout of the destruction. We know about the heartfelt dedication of the first responders who risked their lives to save the people of Lower Manhattan, but what about the unsung heroes of that dreadful day? Many of these men and women (and a dog) risked everything to keep their fellow New Yorkers safe on one of the most devastating days in American history.
Roselle The Guide Dog
As the North Tower was crashing down around it occupants, a guide dog named Roselle led her owner, Michael Hingson, and a group of people from the 78th floor down nearly 2,000 stairs with little more than the command to go "forward." Hingson said that while he normally communicates with Roselle through hand signals, he was unsure if she could see him through the smoke, so he simply put his trust in her. His faith was rewarded when she led the group to safety in the middle of the panic and chaos.
One Day From Retirement
Officer John W. Perry was preparing to retire from the NYPD on the morning of September 11. He was in the middle of filling out his exit paperwork when news of the attacks arrived, and rather than carry on with his retirement, Perry put his paperwork down and ran the few blocks from 1 Police Plaza to the Towers. He was last seen helping a woman out of one of the towers as it collapsed. Perry's friend, Arnold Wachtel, told New York Newsday:
Apparently, John was too slow carrying this woman. But knowing John, he would never leave that lady unattended. That was just like him to help people.
The Hurt Handler
Immediately following the attacks on the Twin Towers, all air traffic was completely grounded. It wasn't a good day to get bitten by a poisonous snake, and it just happened to be the day, 40 years into his snake handling career, that Lawrence Van Sertima received his first bite.
On September 11, Van Sertima was handling a Taipan snake, one of the most deadly animals in the world. After it bit him, he was driven by ambulance to Miami's Baptist Hospital, and by the time the 40-minute trip ended, he was in critical condition and bleeding from his eyes and mouth.
While an injection of polyvalent antivenom from Miami-Dade's Fire Rescue helped a little bit, what he needed was monovalent antivenom, made from the venom of the Taipan snake. Since it was only available in New York and San Diego, the Miami Baptist Hospital had to receive special clearance from the FAA to have the medicine flown from San Diego, on the condition that the flight was accompanied by two fighter jets. Van Sertima survived and didn't learn the reason he had to wait so long for his antivenom until days later.
The Man In The Red Bandanna
Welles Crowther, known as the "man in the red bandanna," was an equities trader and volunteer firefighter in New York City. On the day of the attacks, he was working in his office in the South Tower, and as the building collapsed around him, he escorted a group of people down the one working stairwell while carrying a woman on his back. After a 17-flight trip, Crowther went back up the stairs to rescue more survivors, wearing the red bandanna his father gave him when his a boy. According to survivors, Crowther helped a second group of people to safety before returning once again up the stairs with members of the FDNY shortly before the South Tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m.
The Champion Chef
Benjamin Clark worked as a chef for the Fiduciary Trust Company in their officers on the 96th floor of the South Tower. The no-nonsense former Marine made a point to remember the name of everyone who came through building, as he believed in taking care of his fellow man.
Immediately after the North Tower was hit, Clark escorted everyone in his department and anyone on the 96th floor out of the building. Rather than exiting the building with the rest of the employees, he stopped on the 78th floor to help a woman in a wheelchair. He never made it out of the building. One Fiduciary employee later stated that Clark saved hundreds of people with his quick thinking.
The Former Firefighter
It had been a full year since Clarence Singleton retired from his position as a lieutenant firefighter with the New York City Fire Department, but when he heard that a plane had hit the North Tower, he changed into a FDNY t-shirt and a pair of jeans before hopping on the train from Brooklyn to Manhattan to offer his assistance.
When he arrived, he helped man the fire hydrants, but when the North Tower began to fall, everyone ran. Singleton only got about 30 feet away before he took a dive and dislocated his shoulder, and it was only through his training that he managed to get himself out of the rubble. After a doctor reset his shoulder, he returned to Ground Zero to keep helping.
The Ghost Of Philadelphia
Joe Ditmar was in New York for a meeting on the 105th floor of the South Tower when the plane hit the North Tower and watched the black smoke billow out of the holes in the building before taking off down the stairs. He was barreling past the 72nd floor when the second plane hit the South Tower. Everyone else from his floor perished in an express elevator.
After Ditmar made it out of the building, he took the subway to Penn Station, determined to get out of New York as fast as possible. That night, Ditmar stayed at his parents' house in Philadelphia, and the next day, he drove to Illinois. When he called into work to let them know he was going to be out of the office, it came as something of a surprise to his employers. They thought he'd died along with his associates.
From Strangers To Brothers
Stanley Praimnath was working at his desk on the 81st floor of the South Tower when the plane crashed through the building only 130 feet from where he was sitting. He told People:
I said, ‘Lord, I’m not ready to die — please send somebody to help me. All I could think of was that I wanted to see my wife and my daughters again. When I saw that I was trapped, I started yelling for help.
It happened to be the moment that Brian Clark was tearing down the last stairway in the South Tower. When he heard Praimnath's cries, Clark helped him escape through crumbling sheet rock and smoky hallways until they made it to safety. Clark said:
He kissed me on the cheek, and we both dusted ourselves off and shook hands. ‘Hi, I’m Brian,’ I told him, and he said, ‘Hi, I’m Stanley. We’ll be brothers for life.’
The Officer Who Stayed
So many of the NYPD officers who rushed to the scene of the attacks didn't make it out of the towers once they collapsed, and to hear Carol Paukner tell it, they were all too aware of that possibility:
This big, [brawny] FBI guy had his shield around his neck. And you know, I looked up at him, and he's telling—there was about six officers there with me—and he's like, 'If you want to live, you, you might as well leave now.' He said, 'We're all gonna die.' And I'm like, 'I can't, we can't leave. I'm, I'm not leaving.' And the officers that I were there with, 'We're not leaving either.' And we continued to evacuate and do our jobs, but you know, we were all like, 'Wow, we're gonna die.'
Paukner was trapped under debris after the first tower collapsed, but she miraculously pulled herself out of the wreckage.
The High School Hero
Alex Nikulin was only 16 years old, but he was already a senior at Bronx High School of Science when he saw the events of 9/11 go down on television at his parent's home. He didn't run down to Ground Zero—he knew that he wouldn't be any help there. Instead, he chose to head to the Salvation Army in Manhattan, where he was tasked with unloading supplies. Like Clarence Singleton and Welles Crowther, he knew that he needed to give himself over to service for the greater good. He told 60 Minutes:
I realized I had to go down there. I don't know how I'm going to help, I don't know what I can do.
The Passengers Of United Flight 93
As courageous as the actions of all these heroes were, the best-case scenario would have been stopping those planes from hitting the Twin Towers at all. Alas, that was the one thing outside their power. The passengers of United Flight 93, however, saved untold numbers of lives by preventing their plane from ever reaching its destination. It's believed that the target of this hijacked plane was going to be the White House or the Capitol Building, but when the passengers found out what had happened to the other three hijacked planes, they mobbed the hijackers and tried to seize control of the plane. As a result, the hijackers ended up crashing the plane into a field, killing everyone on board. Those passengers knew they were going to die either way, but those on the ground in Washington didn't have to, so they went down fighting. We'll never know how many deaths their bravery prevented.
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