With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 days away, five Newsweek and The Daily Beast writers and editors share their personal memories of that day. Watch video of Christopher Dickey, Tina Brown, and others.
A defining moment for the country was also a defining one for Tina Brown, Newsweek and The Daily Beast’s editor in chief: she talks about the trauma of 9/11 and how it inspired her to become an American citizen.
Christopher Dickey, the Paris bureau chief and Middle East editor for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, had been reporting on al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden for nine years before September 11th. Dickey talks about immediately thinking bin Laden was the culprit—and shares a strange memory of a jogger that morning in Central Park.
Before he became a senior columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, John Avlon was a speechwriter for New York Mayor Rudoph Giuliani. He was with Giuliani on the day of the attack. Avlon talks about the difficulty and importance of one his duties in the days following the attacks: writing eulogies for responders who lost their lives.
On Sept. 11, 2001, AP photographer Richard Drew witnessed the twin towers imploding and filmed ‘The Falling Man’—arguably the most haunting photo from the tragedy. On the 10th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil, Drew recounts what happened on that fateful day and how he recorded the iconic image.
“I had been two weeks at the U.S. Open tennis tournament out in Queens and it finished on a Sunday, so I had Monday off and then Tuesday morning was my first day covering fashion week. It was my first show and I was covering a maternity fashion show by Liz Lange at Bryant Park. I was doing hair and makeup feature photos and it was interesting to see that they were using pregnant models. I got those backstage pictures out of the way and then went to the end of the runway to stake out my real estate for the fashion show. I was talking to a CNN cameraman who was shooting the fashion show and all of a sudden, he puts his finger to his ear and says, ‘There’s been an explosion at the world trade center… an airplane has hit the World Trade Center.’ Then, I got a call from my editor that said, ‘Bag the fashion show. You have to go.’ I took the 3 train down to Chambers Street to the World Trade Center. It was just before 9 a.m.
Richard Drew / AP Photo
“When I came up the steps of the subway station I looked up and saw that both of the towers were on fire. I only knew of one airplane. I immediately started photographing people. I photographed one guy who was walking towards me with his head bleeding because I think it had been hit by debris. Already, some police had taped off the debris that had been blown over, cars had windows knocked out, and I slowly made my way over to the west side of the building by the West Side Highway because the wind was blowing west-to-east and I didn’t want the smoke obscuring my view. I ended up at the northwest corner of West and Vesey Street—where the Goldman Sachs building is now—where the ambulances were congregating. I had a perfect view of both buildings and figured that was where I could cover the assignment. I had a Nikon DCS-620, which was one of their early models—a hybrid Kodak-Nikon camera—and I was using a 70-200mm zoom lens. And I did my assignment.
“Myself as a photojournalist I’m like a first responder, as all journalists are in that situation, so we run to something instead of away from it when something happens. When I’m there I get in a zone and do my job and capture what’s there. I don’t really think about if I’m scared or not. You want to make sure you don’t miss that photograph. You get in a mindset. You have to commit to journalism, remember what your job is, and not get emotionally involved. The camera is like a filter for me, too. It’s not like I’m experiencing it, I’m seeing it through my camera. I have to remain emotionally uninvolved.
“I was standing next to a New York City police officer and a woman who was an EMT. We were looking up at the building and I was photographing it, and the police officer said, ‘I was here when the second plane hit. It was a big f—king airplane, like a 737 or something.’ That was the first time I heard of a second plane, and then he said he heard the Pentagon may have also gotten hit. I was like, ‘Whoa.’ The EMT then pointed up and said, ‘Oh my god, look!’ And that’s when we noticed people coming down from the building. We don’t know whether they were overcome by smoke. I was photographing several people coming down from the building and I have a sequence of photographs of this guy coming down. The camera captured the photograph in a sequence, since it had a motor drive on it, so the camera captured a moment. If the camera functioned a fraction of a second earlier, I wouldn’t have had that picture. It was the camera that captured the photograph, not my eye and quick finger. Can you imagine how fast people fall? They’re falling really fast, and while you’re photographing this you have to pan with them so I picked this guy up in my viewfinder, put my finger on the button, and kept taking pictures while he was falling. I had to time my vertical motion of the camera to his descent.
“After the first building fell, I went down to North End Avenue where people were leaving the area and they were all covered in soot, so I was photographing them. There was a ranking police officer wearing a white shirt saying, ‘We have to get everybody back now because the other building is in jeopardy.’ I didn’t want to leave the area. I tried to hide myself in a little traffic median in the street in some bushes and get out of his view so he wouldn’t see me. I took off the 70-200mm and put on a smaller lens—a 35-70mm lens—and put my camera up to take pictures of the North Tower. I picked up my camera and just as I started to do that, the top of the building exploded and mushroomed out from the North Tower. All that debris started coming towards me so I said to myself, ‘I think it’s time to go.’ I made my way up North End and ran into Stuyvesant High School. At the time, the building was still full of students because they hadn’t evacuated everybody. I was looking at my images in the lobby and a student over my shoulder said, ‘What’s that?’ And I said, “That’s the second building coming down.’
“I had to walk all the way back to the AP office in Rockefeller Center because there was no public transportation. I remember walking by St. Vincent’s Hospital at the emergency room entrance and all these people were waiting for the injured to show up. Then I made my way up 6th Avenue and got up to 14th Street and someone asked, ‘Where were you?’ because I was covered in dust, and I said, ‘I was at the World Trade Center.’
“I never counted how many people I photographed falling from the building that day. I think there were seven or eight photos in the ‘Falling Man’ sequence. He was wearing a white tunic and you can see he’s wearing an orange T-shirt under it. I’m not drawn to want to figure out who he is. If people are drawn to want to investigate who it is, that’s okay. For me, it was never a priority.
In a scathing essay, a former national-security chief writes that the cost of 9/11 has been billions of dollars spent, an unneeded war, and thousands of lives lost.
The events of that day were so jarring that they are recorded in our memories as if they had taken place last week. But it has been a long decade, one in which we have made as many mistakes as we have had successes. Now, and not after we suffer another major terrorist attack, is good time to pause, look back, learn lessons, and begin to chart a path away from the past.
Looking back, we may see things that we do not want to revisit just yet, controversies that we wish to leave behind. For us to learn as a nation, however, for us to hand down to future generations what they need to know, we must be clear about what happened. We were attacked by a handful of people from a relatively small organization of fanatics who had tapped into the frustrations of a sizable minority of those who shared their ethnicity and religion. Our nation was stunned and wanted to unify in response. That desire for unity kept too many voices silent when they should have been contributing to a public debate about how to react. Wretched excesses were proposed and barely opposed. We invaded a country, Iraq, that had nothing to do with the attack on us, but had everything to do with the preconceived plans of a cabal in and out of our government. In the process, we killed 100,000, wounded many times more, and threw millions out of their homes. More Americans suffered violent deaths in Iraq than did on 9/11, and multiples more were scarred for life. Americans, including our troops, were lied to about Iraq’s role in 9/11 and some marched to their death motivated by those lies.
Constitutional protections that generations of Americans had struggled to achieve for our own people were eroded in the name of the new cause. Human-rights standards that America had stood for around the world were casually discarded in our treatment of others. The government ran roughshod over sacrosanct civil liberties and disregarded treaty obligations and international law. The CIA established a network of “black” detention centers, and used “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding. Politicians used 9/11 and the new wars that resulted as a wedge issue to win elections and discredit opponents. Not since the phrase “wave the bloody shirt” was coined in the elections after the Civil War had office-seekers so blatantly tried to gain from Americans’ deaths.
President George W. Bush signs the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (Stephen Jaffe / Getty Images)
Money was thrown at the Pentagon, intelligence agencies, and a new Orwellian sounding “homeland” bureaucracy. Large parts of CIA doubled in size and then spawned private-sector, for-profit replicas. With little real analysis as to need or effectiveness, and with a spending-binge mentality, we bought a homeland-intelligence-industrial complex that hides its overwhelming size behind secret budgets and corporate balance sheets. No one would question money allegedly to be used to fight those who had attacked us, nor have the courage to challenge the profits rolling out to the contractors. The spending came not only without new financial sacrifices, it came with tax cuts. The irony of this is that one of the stated goals of Al Qaeda is to lead the United States to death through a thousand cuts. In this strategy they have not been entirely unsuccessful. While we have severely disrupted their operational capability, the costs of our military engagements over the past decade have contributed immensely to our current financial malaise. Estimates of the total costs of the Iraq War vary. While the Pentagon has directly spent nearly $760 billion on the engagement, indirect costs push some estimates as high as $3 trillion. Researchers at Brown University recently estimated the costs of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and our aid to the Pakistani military total between $3.2 and $4 trillion.
For most of the decade, our reaction to the attack strengthened the attackers. Our unprovoked destruction of an Arab nation, our degradation of prisoners, our torturing of suspects, and perceived xenophobia and religious prejudice drove millions away from our cause and many into the ranks of our attackers. Only slowly did the repeated heinous acts of our enemy, their killing of their coreligionists, begin to undermine their support. Only with a new president did the focus of our effort swing from Iraq to a well-thought-out effort to destroy the organization that had actually attacked America on 9/11. Had we not invaded Iraq, had the last two years of wearing down of Al Qaeda been done instead, we could have reduced that threat to a marginalized nub five years ago. Those are the facts that should not be obscured by our desire to heal.
Learning lessons from those unassailable facts is even harder than looking them square in the eye again. One tough but necessary thing to admit is that for a long time we actually played into the hands of our opponents, doing precisely what they had wanted us to do, responding in the ways they had sought to provoke, damaging our economy and alienating much of the Middle East. Preserving and strengthening our critical thinking as a nation is even more necessary at a time when our emotions and primitive instincts would otherwise dominate. Recognizing that even in times of national crisis, the idea that questioning the wisdom of our government or its leaders is not unpatriotic should be an obvious conclusion from this decade. The corollary of that should be that patriotism does not include seeking to use national-security disasters and large-scale death as a basis for partisan political profit. For that to happen in the future, we need not only learned leaders but those with the courage to risk their own reputations by explaining complications, rather than oversimplifying and needlessly risking the lives of our troops.
Listening through the din to the voices of Cassandras, like the experts who warned about what an invasion of Iraq would bring, is a need that leaps out from recent years. Those who predict disasters will not always be right, but they should be heard and given the consideration that their experience merits and their analyses tested.
As a fellow survivor of history’s nightmares, Polish writer Adam Zagajewski spoke to a traumatized nation.
A week after the collapse of the Twin Towers, The New Yorker ran Polish poet Adam Zagajewski’s “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” on the final page of its special 9/11 issue. Written a year and a half before the attacks, the poem nevertheless quickly became the most memorable verse statement on the tragedy, and arguably the best-known poem of the last 10 years. “You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere,” Zagajewski wrote. “You’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully./ You should praise the mutilated world.” A critic, writing in The New York Times Book Review in December 2001, lightly mocked its appeal, “as if America were entering the nightmare of history for the first time and only a Polish poet could show us the way.”
People spray-paint stencil signs on the ground in memory of those lost in the September 11 attack. (Larry Towell / Magnum)
Now 66, Zagajewski is the leading poet of the Polish generation that followed Zbigniew Herbert, Czeslaw Milosz, and Wislawa Szymborska. Milosz called his cohorts “the poets of ruin,” forced to grapple with Poland’s bloody 20th century. Zagajewski fits this description as well. He was an infant when his family was loaded onto cattle cars and deported from their home in Lwów, to be relocated by Stalin to the Soviet Union. “There was too much of Lwów, and now there isn’t any,” Zagajewski wrote in one of his signature poems from the 1980s, “To Go to Lwów.” Zagajewski today lives in Kraków, home to Nobel laureates Szymborska and, until his death in 2004, Milosz. Zagajewski himself figures in Nobel speculation most years.
Polish poets have long thought of themselves as national bards, called to engage with the harsh world around them. “Polish poetry is one of the marvels of 20th-century literature,” wrote former U.S. poet laureate Charles Simic, who cited its “one rare virtue: it is very readable in a time when modernist experiments made a lot of poetry written elsewhere difficult.” Zagajewski says some critics see “something barbarian” in Polish poetry’s emphasis on meaning over syntax or style. “I’ve heard some French poets say Polish poetry is just journalism, because you can understand it.”
Zagajewski, who often purrs his words and speaks slowly, rejects any suggestion that trauma ennobles Poland or any society. Yet thinking of 9/11 and further back, he notes a change in our response to trauma. In “the past in general and not only in Europe,” he says, “the rule was to forget, to move on. There’s a relatively new idea that you have to work on it—that you have to keep everything in our memory. Which I like. It’s changing us. I don’t think people in the mid–19th century were going back to the Napoleonic wars and thinking, ‘We have to work on it.’?”
The horrors foremost in the poet’s memory are the Holocaust and Stalin’s purges and Gulag Archipelago—more so than 9/11, which he says didn’t fundamentally change his worldview. Zagajewski often harks back to Europe’s haunted past. To walk through Kraków, as he writes in his newest collection, Unseen Hand, is “to hear footsteps in the evening—and see no one”—a reference to the 3 million Polish Jews killed in the Second World War.
“Try to Praise the Mutilated World” recalls a trip Zagajewski took with his father through Ukrainian villages in Poland forcibly abandoned in the population transfers of the post-Yalta years. “This was one of the strongest impressions I ever had,” he says. “There were these empty villages with some apple trees going wild. And I saw the villages became prey to nettles; nettles were everywhere. There were these broken houses. It became in my memory this mutilated world, these villages, and at the same time they were beautiful. It was in the summer, beautiful weather. It’s something that I reacted to, this contest between beauty and disaster.”
In Zagajewski’s poetry, cruelty mingles with humor, optimism, and a keen appreciation of nature. “Well, why not,” he says. “You write a poem. You are alive. You don’t want to be a humorless person. I think that when you write poems you aspire to something whole that’s bigger than simply lament. In poetry I think you try to reconstruct what’s humanity. Humanity is always a mix of crying and laughing.”
While news networks documented the 9/11 attacks from afar, people near the scene recorded the destruction up close. WATCH VIDEO of what we saw when the planes hit.
The First Tower Is Struck
At 8:46 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. In this video of the first attack, a bystander records firemen working in the street, when suddenly everyone turns to look up. Seconds later, against a clear blue sky, the first plane hits the North Tower. There is no sound in the video, but the people in the street appear confused as they witness the explosion.
The South Tower Collapses
In this frightening raw video, fireman and bystanders run as the South Tower collapses. Smoke and debris billow from the falling tower, which was hit by Flight 175 shortly after 9 a.m. on Sept. 11. Amid gushing smoke, the camera pans to the location where the plane hit, reportedly between the 77th and 85th floors.
People Wave for Help
While most people below the crash zones of the towers lived, all but four people at or above the impact zones died. In this tragic video, people hang out of the windows in the north tower impact zone calling for help. The North Tower was struck between the 93rd and 98th floors at approximately 8:46 a.m. The building, 1 World Trade Center, was among the tallest in the world when it was built.
When my mom died in Tower 2, they made a documentary about us. Here's what happened next.
We had just begun our math class when the teacher suddenly got up and walked out of the room. Then, around 8:30, every alarm went off, all of them blaring at the same time. We all panicked. Our teacher rushed back in and told everyone to go home—whether your parent was there or not made no difference, you still had to go home.
We rushed from the room as fast as we could. I ran into one of my older friends, and we went home together. Our families lived in the same building. We went into his part of the house, where his sister was already watching CNN. They were streaming live what was occurring where my mom was working.
Lanza found spirituality after 9/11. (Courtesy of the Lanza Family)
We watched in horror what was happening just a few miles away. On the inside, I was screaming. On the outside, my jaw dropped open. We sat there watching the terrified people running and screaming, trying to get away from what we now call Ground Zero. We argued for the longest time over which building went down first—the south building or the north building. But in the end, it never mattered. After this, everything became a blur. I was 7 years old.
My aunt came in contact with a guy from HBO and a psychologist, Dr. Gilda. They made a documentary of my life after 9/11. That documentary made a bad situation worse. It was like taking a marshmallow, already crisped in a fire, and putting it in a microwave. What happens? It explodes. We had a memorial for Mom, and then ... the blur began again.
I went to live with my dad down in Virginia. It was hard for me to leave all my school friends, and I was still rejecting the truth of the entire situation. I recall leaving my house with a small bag in my hand—a bag that contained a few of the things my mother had once owned.
In Virginia, I had some good times, but the heartache was still there, unable to be relieved. I became mentally unstable, easily saddened, and despising the world. There would be times when I considered committing suicide. Praise God that I didn’t, though!
Then Dad introduced me to my future stepmother. For the next few months, she and I would go out to McDonald’s and just chat. But I had the hardest time accepting her as a stepparent. I was still wrestling with what I now call my “inner demons.” They are called depression, wrath, and unforgiveness. They ruined my life for many years.
Credible terror threats put New York and Washington on highest alert the day before 9/11’s tenth anniversary. Exclusive interviews show how the FBI bungled its final opportunity to prevent tragedy the first time.
Special Agent Harry Samit of the FBI’s Minneapolis field office knew he was looking into the eyes of a terrorist. It was early afternoon on Friday, Aug. 17, 2001. Across from him sat Zacarias Moussaoui, a 33-year-old French-born student arrested the day before for overstaying his visa. Moussaoui had paid more than $8,000 in cash that summer to sit in a cockpit simulator in a flight school in the suburbs of Minneapolis and learn—in a matter of days—the basics of how to fly a 747-400. Samit, a former intelligence officer at the Navy’s celebrated Top Gun flight school, felt sure the man across the desk from him was a Muslim extremist who was part of a plot to hijack a commercial jetliner filled with passengers. “The trick,” Samit wrote, in a soon-to-be-released excerpt of a book he’s written about the case, “was getting Moussaoui to admit this and reveal details and associates to allow us to stop the plot.”
Matt Moyer / AP (left); Alessandra Petlin for Newsweek
Surely, the bureau brass in Washington would share his concern, Samit thought. He was wrong.
That same day, halfway across the country in the fluorescent-lit hallways of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI headquarters building in Washington, counterterrorism supervisors were treating Samit’s first reports about Moussaoui with skepticism, even contempt. Michael Maltbie, a D.C. counterterrorism specialist, insisted repeatedly in the days after the arrest that there was no clear link between Moussaoui and Al Qaeda—the link needed for a warrant. Maltbie thought Moussaoui was a “dirty bird,” he later told investigators, but favored deporting him to France.
Believing a hijacking might be imminent, Samit appealed to his boss in Minneapolis, Special Agent Greg Jones. Jones picked up the phone on Aug. 27 and called Maltbie at FBI HQ.
Moussaoui, he said, might be part of a plot “to get control of an airplane and crash it into the World Trade Center or something like that.”
Maltbie scoffed. “You have a guy interested in this type of aircraft,” Maltbie replied, according to FBI documents. “That is it.” (Maltbie declined requests for an interview.)
At least Maltbie was paying attention. Michael Rolince, who ran the FBI’s International Terrorism Operations Section, was arguably the bureau’s most important go-between with the White House on domestic terrorist threats in the summer of 2001. He tells Newsweek he spent “less than 20 seconds” being briefed on the Moussaoui case that August. His office was inundated with terrorism probes, he said; since Moussaoui was in custody already, he posed no immediate threat. “Did it rise to the level of something that I would take upstairs?” Rolince asks. “The answer is no.”
Imagining what the world would look like today if the attacks had never happened.
How different would the world be today if there had been no 9/11? What if the attacks had been foiled or bungled? One obvious answer is that Americans would probably care a lot less than they do about the rest of the world.
Back on the eve of destruction, in early September 2001, only 13 percent of Americans believed that the U.S. should be “the single world leader.” And fewer than a third favored higher defense spending. Now those figures are naturally much higher. Right?
Wrong. According to the most recent surveys, just 12 percent of Americans today think the U.S. should be the sole superpower—almost exactly the same proportion as on the eve of the 9/11 attacks. The share of Americans who want to see higher spending on national security is actually down to 26 percent. Paradoxically, Americans today seem less interested in the wider world than they were before the Twin Towers were felled.
In the past 10 years, the U.S. has directly or indirectly overthrown at least three governments in the Muslim world. Yet Americans today feel less powerful than they did then. In 2001 just over a quarter felt that the U.S. had “a less important role as a world leader compared to 10 years ago.” The latest figure is 41 percent.
Three explanations suggest themselves. First, wielding power abroad proved harder in practice than in neoconservative theory. Second, the financial crisis has dampened American spirits. A third possibility is that 9/11 simply didn’t have that big an impact on American opinion.
Video: 9/11 Through News Reports From The Day
Yet to conclude that 9/11 didn’t change much is to misunderstand the historical process. The world is a seriously complex place, and a small change to the web of events can have huge consequences. Our difficulty is imagining what those consequences might have been.
Clashes over how to commemorate 9/11 are a sign of our strength.
Ironically, much of our attention to the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks involves our distinctively American propensity to point to our own faults. Ten years have passed, critics moan, and One World Trade Center isn’t finished. Controversy lingers over both placement and content of the memorial at the site. (Even over whether the Latin inscription from Virgil is appropriate.) We are squabbling over prayer—or the lack thereof—at the dedication ceremony, and whether the planning has paid too much attention or too little to the families of those who died.
Why do we even build them—these memorials to life’s cataclysms, to the suffering and horror of the present hour? In theory we build memorials so that future generations will remember, but in practice they too often aid in forgetting. Too many times it is the memorial and not the tragedy that we recall.
The "Tribute to Light" memorial as seen from Bayonne, New Jersey. (Emile Wamsteker / Bloomberg-Getty Images)
The greatest oration ever delivered on American soil was Abraham Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg—the speech, says historian Garry Wills, from which “all modern political prose descends.” But Lincoln predicted, wrongly, that future generations would forget his words and remember the deeds of those who left their lives on the battlefield. Matters have worked out the other way around. The Gettysburg Address has become the stuff of legend, quoted in useful bits by politicians and pundits, memorized by schoolchildren. But who (if we are honest) remembers the battle?
In her difficult but fascinating book An Ethics of Remembering, the philosopher Edith Wyschogrod tells us that the great challenge in the wake of cataclysm is building “a community of shared experience.” We did share Sept. 11—briefly. For a powerful national moment, the tragedy belonged to all of us. Then our national community was rent asunder, and the tragedy with it, as we collapsed as usual into our separate warring tribes.
But this is America, and such disagreements—like the disagreements over the memorial—are evidence of what is right and not what is wrong with our nation. Our plurality, frustrating though it may be when you are certain your side is right, is a vital aspect of our distinctiveness. That tolerance of sharply different views lies at the heart of our democracy, and is worth cherishing, and fighting for.
It is important to remember that the attacks were not just on America, but on what America stands for. The men who flew the planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and who came so close to crashing another into Washington, D.C., were not the uneducated and oppressed detritus of neocolonialism. They were mostly middle class, educated, intelligent, and well trained. Blame if you wish American foreign policy; blame if you wish the fanatical version of Islam that inspired them; but you will be searching for the source of evil beyond the human heart from which it springs. The simpler explanation is that evil men did evil that day because they chose to.
The nation has real enemies, and the call to vigilance is perhaps the most prominent lesson of 9/11. Heeding it has led consecutive administrations to press the battle against terror groups abroad, before they can strike us—“eliminating our enemies,” in President Obama’s coinage. At home, with bipartisan support, we have built an ever larger and more intrusive national-security apparatus. That is understandable. But we must be sure never to implement security measures in a way that stifles the very dissenting voices that make America special, and worth specially protecting.
The families of the heroes who responded on 9/11 share their stories of grief and hope.
Jim Smith is now a retired NYPD officer, but on the morning of 9/11 he was an instructor of law at the police academy. His wife, Moira, was a patrol officer assigned to the Thirteenth Precinct on Twenty-first Street, around the corner from the academy, and she responded to the World Trade Center. Moira helped one person out of the South Tower to safety and had returned to help others in the evacuation when the building fell.
In thinking about 9/11 and Moira’s death, I don’t think I ever got to the rage stage. I was angry about a lot of things, but I knew I couldn’t make it be about me. It couldn’t be Poor me. It couldn’t be I’m a victim of this tragedy. Rather than mourning Moira, I prefer to celebrate her. To celebrate who she was and what she did rather than commiserate about how she died. A tragedy would have been if she had been coming home from work at 4:00 in the morning and got hit by a drunk driver. The way she charged into those buildings time and again to get people out—that wasn’t a tragedy. That was heroism, the definition of what it is to be a hero. I focused on that.
Firefighters near the ruins of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. (Alan Chin)
Zack Fletcher is a New York City firefighter, as was his twin brother, Andre. Both brothers played football for Brooklyn Tech High School, and also football and baseball for the FDNY teams, in addition to being volunteer firefighters on Long Island. Andre was killed on 9/11 while working with Rescue 5 in the North Tower.
Over at Bellevue they still have a lot of body parts but just don’t have the DNA technology to positively identify them ... The professional fireman in me tells me that he’s not coming back. I’ve accepted that, and that’s what’s helped me move on. A lot of the things that I’ve gone through and that I’ve strived to become are not just for me anymore, but for both of us. I’m living for both of us. It’s one thing to be brothers and siblings; it’s another to be twins. Twins often feel the same thing. But when the North Tower fell, I didn’t feel anything—there was no feeling of separation. That’s why I still hold on to that little hope.
Brendan Ielpi is a New York City firefighter assigned to Ladder Co. 157 in Brooklyn. He was a probationary firefighter for just three months when he responded to Ground Zero with other firefighters who had reported in, arriving there just after the second building collapsed. His father, Lee Ielpi, a retired firefighter from Rescue Co. 2, also responded to the site. Brendan’s brother, Jonathan, and every man in his company, Squad 288, were killed in the South Tower.
I don’t know if it was my young mind, my innocence. I was only twenty-five years old then, and I thought I knew everything. I was so naive about the world. We were so pampered growing up—no war, no fighting. Everything was great. I’d never seen anything like what I was seeing on 9/11, and most people haven’t. But I got to work. Whatever they told me to do that day, I did. That first day I just had to root around the pile with my hands, feeling for anything.
Reprinted by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from A Decade of Hope by Dennis Smith. Copyright © 2011 by Dennis Smith.
On the anniversary of 9/11, former FDNY chief Thomas Von Essen, reporter Michael Daly, and former Giuliani speechwriter John Avlon remember colleagues who lost their lives in the attacks.
While networks documented the 9/11 attacks from afar, people near the scene recorded it up close. Watch video.
In his final speech in Washington on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the president said that while America took a painful blow, it emerged stronger than ever before. Plus, full coverage.
From Lorraine Adams’s novel about terrorists to Galway Kinnell’s poetry, debut novelist and former reporter Amy Waldman picks her favorite novels on 9/11.