They were ordinary people who did extraordinary things at a time of horror, danger, and confusion. Amid choking smoke and flames at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, or aboard a hijacked airliner, they risked (and sometimes sacrificed) their own lives to save friends, coworkers, and often total strangers.
It's impossible to count the civilian heroes of September 11: For every name and story reported, there are doubtless hundreds more never publicized. In some cases, those rescued never even knew the names of those who pulled them from rubble or guided them to safety; in other instances, such as the heroics of the passengers aboard United Flight 93, their courageous actions were only pieced together after their deaths. But every account illustrates the very best of the indomitable American spirit. Here are just a few:
When the Twin Towers exploded in flames, those with handicaps were at a double disadvantage. Michael Hingson, blind since birth, was on the 78th floor of the North Tower. He and colleague David Frank helped evacuate those in their office, then Frank (and guide-dog Roselle) led Hingson down 78 flights of crowded stairs. Tina Hansen, confined to a wheelchair due to arthritis, worked in the same tower on the 68th floor. She was saved by two men who carried her down strapped in a lightweight emergency chair, refusing to leave her even though the stairs became dark and slippery, and finally depositing her in an ambulance outside.
At the Pentagon, retired naval aviator Jerry Henson, pinned by debris amid burning jet fuel, was rescued by strangers: Lt. Cmr. David Tarantino, a Navy physician, and Navy Capt. David Thomas, who both also worked in the building. Crawling on their bellies through the smoke, maneuvering through fiery debris, they found the gasping, bloodied Henson and managed to extricate him only when Tarantino, who once rowed crew, crawled under the debris, lay on his back, and gave it a mighty push upward with his feet. All three escaped—barely—and only learned each other's names later.
In the skies, the passengers of hijacked United Flight 93, enroute from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco, spared many other lives by giving up their own. Learning from onboard calls to loved ones that two hijacked planes had been flown into the World Trade
Center, they decided to fight back rather than let their aircraft turn into another missile of death (there has been speculation it was headed for a target in Washington, perhaps the White House or the Capitol). Five names are mentioned most prominently as leaders— Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, Tom Burnett, Jeremy Click, and Lou Nacke—but there may well have been others (flight attendant Sandy Bradshaw called her husband and said she was boiling water to throw at the attackers). Burnett, in a call to his wife, said, "There's a group of us who are going to do something." Beamer, unable to reach his wife, contacted a GTE phone supervisor, asked her to call his family, then recited the Lord's Prayer with her. The last thing she heard him say was, "Are you guys ready? Let's roll." Minutes later, the Boeing 757 crashed in an open area near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing all 44 onboard. It was the only hijacked flight that didn't claim lives on the ground.
Then there are those who, while not on the scene at the moment of impact, nonetheless became heroes. They included the teachers at an elementary school in lower Manhattan just three blocks from the World Trade Center, who evacuated their classrooms, comforted their young students, and when the towers crumbled, walked and carried them to safety. Also in this category are the chefs from some of Manhattan's finest and most famous restaurants who, along with their kitchen help, prepared and delivered up to 15,000 free meals a day to rescue workers.
4. Go online and do research on 9/11. Learn more about human courage and human sacrifice during and after the event. Do you think that these two are always interconnected? Think about it, and then talk about it in class using your notes.
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