Remembering the heroes of 9/11

Firefighters spray water near Ground Zero on September 11, 2001
Firefighters spray water near Ground Zero on September 11, 2001
Anthony Correia via Shutterstock

Army Capt. Lincoln Leibner wasn’t supposed to be at the Pentagon in suburban Washington on September 11, 2001. But when he saw the two planes hit the World Trade Center in New York, he put on his uniform and headed to his office there.

That put Liebner about a hundred yards from the building when Flight 77 crashed into it. It also made him one of the first responders at the Pentagon, rescuing people from the burning building through darkness and intense smoke. Several were helped through broken windows to reach aid outside.

Even though Liebner himself would be taken to the hospital to treat the wounds he suffered helping others, he would return to the Pentagon later that day before being sent home.

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The Pentagon now has a memorial to honor the 184 lives lost in that attack.

Liebner’s story is one of thousands from that fateful day, where people went into the carnage instead of fleeing from it.

Four planes took off from Boston’s Logan Airport that morning with hijackers aboard. Two of the planes hit the Twin Towers in New York; one struck the Pentagon; the fourth—apparently headed toward Washington and likely the U.S. Capitol—was brought down when its passengers took matters into their own hands.

Todd Beamer

Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, Tom Burnett, and Jeremy Glick were passengers on that plane, Flight 93. Learning what had happened in New York and at the Pentagon through phone calls to loved ones, they decided to fight back against the hijackers. Working with others, they devised a plan to storm the cockpit and take over the plane themselves, with the intent of crashing it rather than letting the terrorists execute their plans.

Beamer, on the phone with an airphone supervisor who was on the ground, recited the Lord’s Prayer and 23rd Psalm before the four men apparently made it into the cockpit. The plane crashed into the ground outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania. All 44 people on board the plane died, including the four hijackers.

Rick Rescorla was the head of security for Morgan Stanley, which had its offices in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Prior to 9/11, he had the firm’s employees routinely practice evacuation drills. When the attacks happened, Rescorla ignored word from the Port Authority to have Morgan Stanley employees stay in place after the first plane hit.

He is credited with saving the lives of 2,687 Morgan Stanley employees by having them evacuate, along with 250 visitors to the offices. Rescorla would return to the South Tower to try to save others, and die in the attempt.

Rick Rescorla

Police officer John Perry was filing his paperwork for retirement on the morning of 9/11. Perry heard of the first plane flying into the World Trade Center, grabbed his badge and headed to the building. He was last seen carrying an injured woman from the site when the South Tower collapsed. He was the only off-duty NYPD officer killed that day.

The Fire Department of New York lost 343 members. There were 72 additional first responders who died: 37 officers of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; 23 members of the NYPD; 8 EMTs and paramedics from private emergency services; three New York State Court officers; and a patrolman from New York Fire Patrol.

Not all of the victims of 9/11 died that day. More than 200 emergency workers who sifted through the rubble for weeks after the collapse of the Twin Towers have died of diseases related to their work, according to the Uniformed Firefighters Association. Some estimates put the number much higher.

The last person rescued from the devastation in New York is a woman named Genelle Guzman-McMillan. She survived being pinned in the rubble for 27 hours. She began praying while trapped and credits God for saving her.

In her account, her free hand was grasped by a man who identified himself as Paul. Eventually, she was pried from the concrete that had trapped her, but by that point, Paul was nowhere to be found. For years, she thought it may have been a real angel who saved her. Only 10 years later did she find out that Paul was a real person, who on 9/11 was a member of FDNY Rescue 2 in Brooklyn.

The hijackers murdered nearly 3,000 people that day. Many more would have died if not for the heroes of 9/11. On this 20th anniversary of the attack, we salute them and their bravery.

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