September 12, 2004

Would I have done what they did?

When on September 11, 2004, we reflect on the attacks on the World Trade Center three years ago, we can read the New York Times, Portraits of Grief to remember the lives of the people who died. We can watch news specials and see again images of the plane flying into the tower and remember some of what we felt in those awful days. CNN's special included pictures considered too awful to broadcast then of people jumping to their deaths, some 200-300 we are told. A flash presentation made a few months after the attack brings it all back home. Michele Catalano was galvanized to set up the Voices project< collecting first hand accounts of that terrible day. Joe Katzman has done a remarkable job of putting together the best of the blogosphere in 9/11: Rising from the Ashes at Winds of Change

A common reflection of most men if they have never been under fire, is how they would react if they were.
Today, I wonder how I would react if I had been there, in the burning towers. Would I go so willing up the stairs to calm the people going down the stairs as the firemen did?


Would I refuse to leave until I was sure all my people were out like Rick Rescorla?
A Vietnam vet who some call the bravest man they ever knew Rescola was the VP in charge of security for Morgan Stanley. Ignoring the initial advice of the Port Authority for people to stay at the desks, he said, "Piss off, you son of a bitch. Everything above where that plane hit is going to collapse, and it's going to take the whole building with it. I'm getting my people the fuck out of here." Calling his wife 15 minutes later, he said, "Stop crying I have to get these people out safely. If something should happen to me, I want you to know I've never been happier. You made my life."
Over 2600 employees walked out of the south tower and into the rest of their lives that morning. Rick did not make it out. Neither did two of his security officers who were at his side.

Would I stay behind to help a disabled friend?
Abe Avremel Zelmanowitz was called "the saint of the burning towers" "A few minutes after the first plane hit the World Trade Center where Zelmanowitz was working, he rushed to see how his friend and colleague, Ed Beyea, a paraplegic, was managing. Beyea was left completely paralyzed by a diving accident 20 years earlier and was always accompanied by a nurse. Zelmanowitz urged her to leave the burning building immediately, promising to remain with his friend. Zelmanowitz then called Beyea's mother and held his cellular telephone up to Beyea's mouth. Beyea assured his mother everything would be okay and said his friend, Abe, was taking care of him.
Havah Zelmanowitz said Monday that she and her husband had managed to speak to Avremel a short time before the end. "He told Yankel and I that everything was alright. He said he had enough air. We urged him to leave the building as soon as possible, but he said he had to remain behind to help some people. A few minutes later, the building collapsed."

Would I vote to charge the cockpit?
Like the passengers on United Flight 93? Who voted, then prayed, and charged the cockpit in their last moments alive to foil the hijackers' plan to crash into the Capitol or the White House.

I don't know. I hope I would. Today, I am only grateful for these stories of remarkable courage and selflessness in the moments before death. They show me what is possible, how brave people act, are good so many people are.

Posted by Jill Fallon at September 12, 2004 8:58 AM | Permalink