Essays on the Theme of Heroism

The Heroes Among Us

"On a normal day, we value heroism because it is uncommon. On September 11, we valued heroism because it was everywhere."
--Nancy Gibbs, Time Magazine

A man could have fled the World Trade Center before it collapsed, but chose instead to stay with his friend, a paraplegic who could not escape.

Two women carried a badly-burned stranger down long flights of stairs and out of danger.

A Chaplain lost his life while giving last rites to a dying firefighter.

A man slowed his own escape from the World Trade Center to help a woman in a wheelchair.

Hundreds of citizens from New York and surrounding cities trekked down to the ruins to bring water and food to the rescue workers.

The passengers of Flight 93 decided to confront the hijackers, possibly saving thousands of lives by their courage, while losing theirs.

Thousands of people around the country lined up to donate blood.

Connecticut schoolchildren donated bag lunches and letters of encouragement to the rescue workers.

Citizens of nations around the world expressed support for and solidarity with the citizens of the United States.

Owners of a downtown restaurant allowed their space to be used by medical workers to care for the wounded, and donated all their water.

These are just some of the people who proved themselves heroes when the need arose during the terrible week of September 11, 2001.

Hundreds of firefighters were lost beneath the crumbled World Trade Center buildings. Yet these losses did not deter still more firefighters, policemen, and medical professionals from continuing to search the ruins for survivors. What kept them going?

Anyone who gives comfort to a friend, donates blood, writes a letter of encouragement, or speaks out for peace is a hero. Anyone who reacts to tragedy with comfort and aid is a hero. How will you be a hero?

Michael Benfante, 36, and John Cerqueira, 22 were trying to escape the North tower of the World Trade Center after an airplane crashed into it, when they spotted a wheelchair-bound woman who was having trouble. Here is the story as reported on National Public Radio:

"We were carrying her down, 68 stories down the stairs.'

Thirty-six-year-old Michael Benfante, the New York branch manager for the telecom firm Network Plus, was in his office on the 81st floor of 1 WTC, attending a morning meeting and having his coffee when the disaster struck. Benfante says that the whole building started shaking and that he could see flames out the window.

Shortly after the first attack, he herded everyone to the stairs and started the 81-flight descent. On his way down the stairs, he spotted several women on the 68th floor, one of whom was using a wheelchair. Benfante says he and one of his co-workers helped move her to an emergency wheelchair. "We got the woman out of that chair and into the other chair and we started carrying her out," he recalls. "We got to the stairwell and we were carrying her down, 68 stories down the stairs." It took more than an hour to get to the ground floor, he says.

After he got the woman outside and to an ambulance, he looked up and saw that the second tower had disappeared. It had been hit by the second hijacked jetliner and collapsed during his long trip down the stairwell."

Benfante and Cerqueira have been awarded "distinguished advocacy" awards from Bethphage, a religious organization.

Here is how the Mohegan tribe of Connecticut participated in relief efforts. (This story was written the week after September 11th.)

The Mohegan Tribe is giving $1 million to assist the families of victims of the World Trade Center catastrophe, including office workers and firefighters, police and rescue personnel. "It seems in some ways not enough, but what would be enough?" asked Tribal Chairman Mark Brown. "I'd rather be down there digging." A former police officer in Montville and Norwich, Brown said he has been particularly touched by the loss of emergency service workers unaccounted for since the two towers collapsed after they were hit by hijacked commercial jets that were purposely crashed into the landmark high-rise buildings. "I understand that call," said Brown. "As you're going in, everyone else is heading out."

About 4,700 people are missing and feared dead in the rubble of the two towers. Terrorists also pirated two other commercial jets, crashing one into the Pentagon and the other in a rural area of Pennsylvania Tuesday morning. "We share the horror and sadness of the victims of this tragedy, and wanted, in some way, to offer our help,"said Brown. "The families of those lost last Tuesday, and the rescue workers still working so heroically today, are in our thoughts and in our prayers."

The Mohegan Tribal Council voted unanimously Friday morning to make the contribution to the Twin Towers Fund, established to assist victims and their families as well as to assist the families of the firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians, and Port Authority police involved in the rescue and recovery effort. The fund is a program of the New York City Public/Private Initiatives Inc., a nonprofit organization.

Brown said there was no hesitation in passing the initiative. The 1,500-member tribe is owner of Mohegan Sun, one of the most lucrative American Indian casinos in the country. "We did it in 15 seconds," he said. "The bottom line is the firefighters, police officers and rescue people went in to save lives. As Native Americans, as the first Americans, we take very strongly this attack. So anything we can do to give support to the rescue effort and families, we will."

Shirley Walsh, the tribe's recording secretary and social services coordinator, said tribal members had been calling, asking what the Mohegans could do to help. The tribe made calls to offer bottled water, linens or other rescue supplies, but was told money could be used, Walsh said. "It was unanimous...word just went down the hall, and everybody agreed. This hits everybody. It hits home. It's terrible." Walsh said none of the tribe's 1,500 members was lost or injured in the attacks, although some Mohegans had friends or family nearby at the time. " We're just doing this because we care" she said. The tribe will also host a blood drive Sept. 24 for tribal members and employees of its Mohegan Sun casino.

Grace Moran, a student in Valencia, Pennsylvania, writes:

My heroes are the people from flight 93. It could have been you on the flight. If you were on the Flight would you have let them take over the plane or been brave and fought them? I would have been brave because it would have been better that just me and the people on the plane died than a couple thousand. The question is would you? The heroes on Flight 93 thought not how to get down safely but how to save thousands of lives. One guy was coming home to see his wife and 3-week-old daughter and sacrificed his life to save others. They think that the plane was heading for Camp David or The White House. The people on Flight 93 are our true heroes. I am now collecting and saving money for the victim's families.

Jeanne Lewis, a teacher in Scottsdale, Arizona, writes:

Thomas J. Pappas School is a school for homeless children. My third grade class wanted to help New York, so they made American flags when there were none for sale after the bombing. They accepted contributions and they have raised $1900 dollars to send to New York. Other classes joined in and the school responded to help. A service station and a radio station got the word out and people came in droves to purchase the flags made of construction paper. The children feel very proud to be giving their money to the effort.

Tammi D'Antoni from Staten Island, New York, writes:

My Hero is Nicholas Rossomando & RESCUE 5 FDNY. Not only is Nicholas Rossomando the love of my life, but he is the bravest person I know... along with 10 other men from RESCUE 5 FDNY in Staten Island, NY. They rushed to the WTC on 9*11*01 and never made it out. They sacrificed their lives to save thousands of others. All 11 of them were heroes long before that day because of the lives they all led. It takes a special person to do what they did. May they all rest in peace together, "Brothers" 'till the end. Nicky, I love you with all my heart & soul... 'Till we meet again...xoxoxo

Allen-Michael from Clayton writes:

My heroes are the firefighters and hospital workers who risked their lives to help the victims in the world trade center tragedy. They have helped people who were injured get to safety. They helped people who were lost find their way. They have helped people who needed medical treatment. They rushed people to the hospitals. They are my heroes because they helped the injured and sick.

Traci from Clayton writes:

The group of people I'm going to talk about are firefighters. Even though I don't know any, I think they are amazingly generous to not get paid but to go out and risk their own lives for others. I think that takes a lot of courage and shows a great deal of heroism. On September 11th the USA was under attack. The firefighters didn't have to go into the burning buildings and save innocent men and women, but they did. Tragically, some of them died. Even though I don't know any personally I do very much pay my respects and I always will.

The following is an excerpt from Andrea Gabor's piece on unsung heroes of 9/11 for the New York Times:

There were heroes who had jobs to do that day and did them, whatever the cost. And there were other, unsung heroes who did not have the jobs they knew had to be done and did them anyway.
Paul Amico was working at the dock in Weehawken, N.J., across the Hudson River from Manhattan when he saw the smoke billowing from the World Trade Center. Without consulting his boss, he grabbed a two-way marine radio and hopped a ferry bound for Lower Manhattan. When the World Financial Center dock became engulfed in debris, Mr. Amico, communicating by radio, helped direct the incoming ferries to Pier 26 in TriBeCa. The trouble was, a chain-link fence blocked the ferries' way. So Amico opened the boathouse of a kayaking club on the pier (of which he is a member), found an acetylene torch and cut an opening in the fence. Over the next two hours, the NY Waterway evacuated 48,000 people from Lower Manhattan.

Theresa Coleman is an emergency room clerk at Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn. As the emergency room began filling up after the attack, Ms. Coleman rushed outside to help with the logistics of setting up an expanded triage center on the ramp outside the emergency room. [She] also took it upon herself to explain emergency procedures to an X-ray clerk who had balked at accepting victims not yet entered into the hospital's computer system.

Stephanie from Sandy Hook writes:

My uncle, Daniel Harlin, is my hero. he gave his life in the line of duty. He was a NYC firefighter and died on Sept. 11. He died saving the lives of others. He knew everyday that when he went into work that he may not go home and that didn't stop him. He is a true hero because he always gave his all, and his all took his life while he saved others.

Page created on 9/4/2004 9:49:36 PM

Last edited 6/9/2018 4:22:54 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links - connects you to others who need help.
Firefighters - are trained professionals who bravely face danger so that they can help others.
The American Red Cross - has received thousands of heroes wanting to give money to the relief efforts or donate blood.
NYPD Memorial - police heroes
Children and Grief - an essay from Children's Hospice International staff edited by MY HERO staff

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"I can see in the acorn the oak tree. I see the growth, the rebuilding, the restoring. I see that is the American psyche. There is so much we can draw understanding from. One of the lessons is the development of courage. Because without courage, you can't practice any of the other virtues consistently."
-- Maya Angelou