This year marks the 20th anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attack on US soil in history. September 11, 2001 will always be remembered as the darkest of days; a permanent scar on American history.
But sometimes the darkness helps us to find our brightest lights. On the day of the attacks, and in the weeks that followed, the American people witnessed extraordinary acts of heroism and bravery from our firefighters, police, security guards, emergency responders and civilians.
No one should ever have to go to the lengths that these heroes went to. But when faced with an unprecedented crisis, these individuals went above and beyond the call of duty to help their fellow human beings. So as we pay our respects to the victims of the 9/11 attacks, we must also take a moment to commemorate the acts of bravery and the sacrifices made by these true American heroes.
NYPD police Officer Moira Smith was the only female officer among the 23 NYPD cops who died on 9/11.
Officer Smith was close to the towers when the attacks happened, and immediately moved in to help evacuate civilians. She helped a number of injured people away from the buildings, then moved into the lobby of the South Tower to aid the evacuation. A number of survivors have paid homage to her firm, reassuring presence in the lobby of the building as they escaped. Officer Smith remained in the building to the very end, helping people evacuate until the tower collapsed around her.
Moira Smith was survived by her husband (and fellow police officer) Jim Smith, and their daughter Patricia. Her memory has been honored with a dedicated statue in the California 9-11 Memorial.
In September 2001, Rick Rescorla was working for Morgan Stanley, in their offices located in the South Tower.
At 62 years of age, Rick had already led an extraordinary life: he was a decorated soldier in both the UK and US armies, a British paratrooper, and Vietnam war veteran. He had been awarded the Bronze and Silver Stars for valor in combat, a Purple Heart and the Vietnam Gallantry Cross. After leaving the US military he became a teacher before moving into corporate security, eventually becoming Director of Security.
Rescorla was in the Morgan Stanley offices when the first plane hit the North Tower. He heard the explosion and turned to see the tower in flames. When an announcement came over the PA advising people to stay at their desks, Rescorla knew that it was best not to wait. He immediately grabbed his bullhorn, walkie-talkie, and cell phone, and began systematically ordering his colleagues to evacuate, including the 1,000 employees in WTC 5.
From the 44th floor of the building, Rescorla led the Morgan Stanley employees and visitors down the stairwell. They were already on the move when the building shook violently; their tower had been hit by a second plane, 38 floors above their offices. Rescorla worked to keep the group calm, singing the same Cornish songs from his youth that he’d sung to his men in Vietnam. Between songs Rescorla called his wife to tell her he loved her.
Most of the Morgan Stanley employees were safely evacuated – but Rescorla wasn’t done. He returned to the building, telling a colleague he would only leave, “as soon as I make sure everyone else is out.” He was last seen on the 10th floor, heading upward, shortly before the South Tower collapsed. His remains were never found. Rick Rescorla is credited with saving the lives of 2,687 Morgan Stanley employees and 250 office visitors.
39-year-old Benjamin Clark was a chef at the Fiduciary Trust Company in the South Tower of the WTC.
An ex-marine, Benjamin worked with other employees to assist the evacuation of the Fiduciary Trust Company offices. Despite being on the 96th floor of the building, every employee was safely out of the building before it collapsed – apart from Benjamin Clark.
As the staff members had been making their way past the 78th floor, they had encountered a woman in a wheelchair. Clark had volunteered to stay behind to help her as everyone else continued to evacuate, and was last seen helping her when the South Tower collapsed. “My son was a marine, so you know he wasn’t going to leave anybody behind,” his mother would later say. “He could have gotten out. Everybody else did.”
NYPD Police Officer John William Perry was literally hours away from retirement when the WTC was attacked.
Officer Perry was a man of diverse interests: he was a law school graduate, spoke six languages and had been running his own immigration law practice before entering the police force. He’d even appeared as an extra in several New York-set movies and TV shows. Never one to stand still, Officer Perry had decided that the next thing he wanted to be was a medical malpractice lawyer.
Officer Perry was off duty on September 11 and had only come into the downtown police headquarters to file his retirement papers. When the first plane hit the North Tower, the headquarters burst into activity; off duty or not, Officer Perry wasn’t going to ignore the call.
He joined other officers as they rushed to the scene to assist with rescue operations. On reaching the site of the attack, he immediately began helping evacuate the South Tower. He was attempting to rescue a woman inside the tower when it collapsed.
As Arnold Wachtel, a close friend of Perry’s, said, “… knowing John, he would never leave that lady unattended. That was just like him to help people.”
Kustom Signals honors and remembers all the victims, survivors and heroes of the September 11 attacks. Never forget.