OnFeb. 26, 1993 a bomb planted in the back of a van parked in the car park below the World Trade Center exploded, killing 6 people and injuring over 1,000 others.
Reports of the attack explained that it “signaled a new terrorist challenge, one whose rage and malice had no limit. Ramzi Yousef, the Sunni extremist who planted the bomb, said later that he had hoped to kill 250,000 people.
This attack was a precursor for the terrible events that happened eight years later, on the 11th of September 2001.
As it it was 15 years ago today, here are the stories of 15 of the hundreds of the people who showed endless heroism on the day of the 9/11 attacks:
1. Rick Rescorla
Rick Rescorla earned a silver star for his heroism as an officer who fought on the battlefields on Vietnam. Hewas known for singing to his men while under heavy fire to keep them calm, and he would treat them to songs from when he was brought up in the United Kingdom.
It turns out many more were destined to hear his songs after he evacuated every employee in his company, despite orders from Port Authority for everyone to remain at their desks.
Rescorla, who was Head of Corporate Security for Morgan Stanley, had warned both his company and the Port Authority several times about the World Trade Centre’s security weaknesses, and luckily had insisted that there regularly be company wide evacuation practice drills.
Just16 minutes after the first plane hit the opposite building, he hadevacuated more than2,700 employees and visitors before the second plane hit, singing to them as they rushed down the stairs and calming bringing them safely from the building.
In a brief phonecall to his wife, he is believed to have to said to her:
Stop crying, I have to get these people out safely. If something should happen to me, I want you to know Ive never been happier. You made my life.
He went back up into the building to look for stragglers, he was last seen on the 10th floor heading upwards and his body was never found.
2. Welles Crowther
Just minutes after the first plane hit, equities trader Welles Crowther called his mother and left her a calm message saying “Mom, this is Welles. I wanted you to know that I’m OK.”
He then made his way down to the 78th floor where he found a group of survivors, shocked and huddled waiting for help.
One young woman was blinded by blood on her glasses, so Crowther carried her on his back and calmly lead the group to the stairway and down 15 floors. Satisfied she was safe, he deposited the woman before running back up to the 78th floor to help others. On the way, he found a red bandanna to cover his mouth and nose, and was then known by the dozens of people he saved as the ‘the man in the red bandanna’.
He calmly put out fires, administered emergency first aid, removed employees from the rubble and calmly instructed them to leave the building. “Everyone who can stand, stand now. If you can help others, do so.” he instructed them, and managed to send more survivors down the stairs and to safety. One of those survivors wasJudy Wein.
“If he hadn’t come back, I wouldn’t have made it,” she said. “People can live 100 years and not have the compassion, the wherewithal to do what he did.”
Crowther’s body was found on March 19, 2002. His mother,Allison Crowther, has since met with several of the people saved by her son, including Wein. According to statements given by survivors, Crowther is responsible for saving at least 19 people.
3. Major Heather Penney and Colonel Marc Sassevile
Maj. Heather Penney (who was a lieutenant at the time) andBrigadier General Mark Sassevile (then lieutenant colonel) were pilots who were quickly scrambled to intercept United 93 after two other planes had hit the World Trade Center.
With the plane hurtling towards Washington DC and no time to load up their fighter jets with ammunition, they both embarked on what they believed would be a kamikaze mission –they were determined to bring down the hijacked aircraft by whatever means necessary, even if it meant giving up their own lives. They devised a plan, he would take out the cockpit and she would take the tail.
But luckily, the passengers of United 93 fought back and the plane was brought down in a field, 20 minutes from the capital. The pair didn’t have to sacrifice their lives that day, but the fact they were willing to is awe inspiring.
4. Army Spc. Beau Doboszenski
Doboszenski was a tour guide, working at the Pentagon whenAmerican Airlines Flight 77 hit the far side of the building.
President Joe Biden chose to tell Beau’s story on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, saying:
Specialist Beau Doboszenski was a tour guide that morning, on the far side of the building.So far away, in fact, he never heard the plane hit. But he shortly felt the commotion.He could have gone home no one would have blamed him. But he was also a trained EMT and came from a family of firefighters.”
While people fled from the building, Doboszenski ran towards it, determined to help. He initially helped out at a temporary first-aid area, but joined a six man team that ventured into the building to find survivors, despite the fact it was still in flames.
When people started streaming out of the building and screaming, he sprinted toward the crash site. For hours, he altered between treating his co-workers and dashing into the inferno with a team of six men.
5. Moira Smith
Officer Moira Smith was a 13 year veteran of the New York Police Department. She was married to another NYPD officer, Jimmy Smith, and had a two-year-old daughter named Patricia.
Smith had alreadyearnt the Police Departments Distinguished Duty Medal for her actions during the Aug. 27, 1991 subway crash in Union Square, in which five were killed and more than 130 hurt. She saved dozens of lives that day, and on September 11th,she selflessly ran towards danger again in a bid to save others.
When talking about her in a speech made after the attacks,Charles Barbuti, a lieutenant in the 13th Precinct said:
“She was … oh, God … I would have to describe Moira as active, dedicated, courageous. We had indications that on a number of occasions she had come out of the World Trade Center, carrying people out, then gone back in. She had the opportunity to leave and she chose not to.”
She can be seen in many of the photographs used in the newspapers carrying people from the burning building, and is believed to have saved hundreds of lives that day. Unfortunately, she never made it out.
For her efforts on Sept. 11, Smith, the only female NYPD officer to die in the attacks, was posthumously awarded the department’s highest accolade, the Medal of Honor. Her body was never found.
6. Leonard Hatton
On Sept. 11, Leonard Hatton was driving into lower Manhattan where he worked as a member of the FBI’s Joint Bank Robbery Task Force.
A volunteer firefighter in his hometown, Hatton spotted the billowing smoke coming from the WTC, abandoned work, raced downtown, and abandoned his car near the Marriott Hotel located between the Twin Towers.
He raced to the top of the hotel and radioed his squad from the vantage point and reported that people were jumping from the north tower. He radioed again when the second plane hit the south tower, showering the area with debris, giving crucial details to the FBI.
He then told his fellow agents he was proceeding into one of the towers to aid with the evacuation. Hewas killed in the collapse of the towers.
His wife, JoAnne Hatton said:
“He didn’t have to go in. But that was his nature. That was truly his nature.If he had gone to work, he would be here today. But I would have expected no less from him.”
7. Ronald Bucca
Buccaenlisted in the Army at age 17 toward the end of the Vietnam War and continued to serve with the reserve special forces after he joined the FDNY. He was a firefighter with the elite Rescue 1 squad, who was nicknamed ‘the flying fireman’ after he survived a fall of five floors while trying to rescue stuck civilians. Despite the offer of early retirement, he rejoined the fire department.
When the horrors of 9/11 began, Bucca ran straight into the building to try and save the people inside. In a brief call made to his wife, he said:
“A plane just went into the Trade Center, and were going into the building now”
Both marathon runners, he andBattalion Chief Orio Palmer both managed to make it up to the 78th floor of the building. From there, he radioed down important information about the fires. Heartbreakingly, he also told colleagues:
“78th floor, numerous 10-45s, Code One” which meant that lots of the people they found were already beyond saving. They are presumed to havepull several civilians from the rubble and started to evacuate them when the building collapsed.
His remains were recovered on Oct. 23, 2001 but his coat was found wrapped protectively around the bodies of several civilians.
At his funeral, his wife told mourners:
“I choose to be grateful for the time I had with him. I know some bonds can never be broken… He saved lives and he touched lives.
40-year-old office assistant Guzman-McMillan was the last survivor to be pulled from the remains of the World Trade Center. She had been trapped for 27 hours, and had lost all hope. But there were people who refused to stop looking, and one of those was Paul.
It was just a normal, joyful morning. I was 30 and I had had my first daughter. I went to work, and was chatting to a co-worker. Then everything turned upside down. The plane had hit. My co-workers tried to seal the doors but the smoke was coming in. We started descending the stairs.
Then the entire building collapsed. It all happened so fast. I was hurtling down to the ground the next thing I knew, I was buried. I couldnt move, couldnt do anything. It felt like a bad dream: I shut my eyes, hoping to wake up at my desk, but it didnt happen. It was pitch black. I shut my eyes again. I opened them, and I was still there. I said to myself: ‘Oh my God. This is real. I am going to die.
My head was trapped between two slabs of concrete. I couldnt feel my toes and I had so much pain in my legs, I couldnt take it any more. I just thought of everything dear to me my daughter, my friends, my whole life and I started praying for a second chance.
I just really wanted to live. I was begging. At one point I felt a warm, burning sensation in my heart. I thought something was happening. I had said to God: ‘Show me a sign that youre listening, and I couldnt see it. At times I could hear dim voices. Then they would fade away. It felt like for ever.
I had my left hand up in a space that felt like open air. Suddenly someone grabbed me by the hand. He said: ‘Genelle, Ive got you. My name is Paul. I dont remember telling him my name. He knew it. I heard someone say: ‘We have a survivor!
It was 27 hours after the tower had fallen down. Paul never came forward after rescuing me and I have been looking for him ever since. Ten years later I still wish I could find him.”
9. Rob Beckwith
Robert Beckwith, 78, is aretired New York fire fighter who first heard about the attacks when he saw the news on a TV. Without hesitation, he dropped was he was doing and told his wife “I’m going down there.”
His kids begged him not to go, but when he learned his friend’s son was missing and could have been in the building he knew he had to go and help.
Early the next morning he put on his old uniform and went down to help the rescue effort, spending days searching through the rubble, and placing the severed limbs of the victims into bags.
He was seen in the rubble with then-president Bill Clinton, and has since been hailed a hero for his determination to help.
10. Jason Thomas
Jason Thomas was dubbed ‘The Unsung 9/11 Hero’ afterconducting one of the most extraordinary rescue missions of September 11th before vanishing without a trace. He came forward and revealed his identity after Oliver Stone made a harrowing film about his heroic actions during the aftermath of the attacks.
When the first of the two towers fell, twoPort Authority police officers were trapped intherubble 30 feet underground.Nobody knew their whereaboutsand whentheofficial rescue mission was called off, they had little hope of survival. We were crushed, I was burnt I was really just ready to give up, officer Will Jimeno recalled in the documentary.
Meanwhile, Jason Thomas, had heardnews of theattacks and driven to Ground Zero, determined to save lives. It was my duty to do something, he later said. I felt compelled to assist in any way that I could. A father, law student and retired U.S. Marine, Thomas parked his car just as the second tower collapsed. As everyone else fled, Thomas ran straightinto the danger zone.
The area has been declared unsafe for rescue workers as buildings continued to crumble, but Thomas and another ex-Marine began searching the burning field of debris, risking their lives in the hopes of finding survivors. They came across the two buried officers, andfreed them from what was certain death.
Once the two officers were safe, Thomas went home unheralded. He resumed his life, and didn’t even tell his wife what he’d done.
11. Benjamin Clark
After eight years serving as a marine, Clark dropped out and decided to become a chef. On the morning of 9/11 he was preparing meals for the people at the Fiduciary Trust Company, when disaster struck. A fidicuary official who survived the attacks would later credit the chef for saving over a hundred lives when he evacuated everyone from the floor.
When he saw a woman on the 78th floor struggling in a wheelchair, he stopped to help. He never made it out of the bilding with the rest of the employees from the Fiduciary Trust Company.
His mother said:
“He could have gotten out, everybody else did.My son was a marine, so you know he wasnt going to leave anybody behind.”
1,200 mourners attended his memorial service.
12. The dogs
During the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, rescue dogs traveled from across the country to join the search and rescue efforts among the remains of the WTC. Over 3,000 people died on that day in September, but estimates state that there were around 900 dogs searching day and night for survivors.
The dogs, tasked with sniffing out humans among the rubble, were so often finding just severed remains and dead bodies that they allegedly became disheartened. Volunteers then decided to start hiding people so that the dogs could find them and be rewarded.
The dogs were there to help the search, but also provided much needed support and distraction for the workers surrounded by death and destruction.
Police officerSuarez was a physical fitness lover, who also coached his daughters elementary track team.
On the morning of September 11th, he heard the calls for help and knew he had to help. So he responded by commadeering a taxi, and raced to the scene. Officer Suarezs photo was later published in a paper that showed him outside the World Trade Center rescuing a distraught woman.
After the picture was taken Officer Suarez raced back into the second tower, which then collapsed.
14. Tom Burnett
Burnett was the vice-president and CEOofThoratec Corporation, a medical devices company based inCalifornia. On that fateful day in September he happened to be on United Airlines Flight 93, one of the aircraft hijacked as part of 9/11.
When the plane was taken over, he called his wife and asked that she relay the information back to the authorities.
“Our airplane has been hijacked. Its United Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco. We are in the air. The hijackers have already knifed a guy, one of them has a gun, they are telling us there is a bomb on board, please call the authorities”
When he called back some time later, his wife told him about the World Trade Center. She instructed him to sit down and not draw attention to himself, but he told her he and a few other passengers had decided they were going to do something.
“Theyre talking about crashing this plane into the ground. We have to do something. Im putting a plan together,” he said.
When his wife said “I love you” he simply responded:
“Dont worry, were going to do something.”
The plane was intended for the White House, but thanks to Burnett and those few other passengers that fought back – it hurtled instead into a field just outside of Pennsylvania.
15. John W Perry
Officer Perry was not atypical Police officer. He was fluent in four different languages and was learning a fifth. He loved to runmarathons, and was an extra in Woody Allen films.
On the morning of September 11th, Officer Perry was filing his retirement papers at the precinct so that he could become a medical malpractice lawyer.
After learning of the attacks,Perry ran several blocks to the World Trade Center. Before running into the building,he was seen helping a woman who had fainted. After taking her to safety, he ran towards the south tower. With no hesitation he went straight into the south tower. And then it collapsed.
His mother said:
“I always wondered why John did so much. As a child he was classified as having a learning disability, but he rose above it. He always felt like had something to prove.”
Amazing. Our thoughts are with all those affected personally by what happened on this day fifteen years ago.