The Heroic Saints of September 11

The Gospel of St. John in the Holy Bible states that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends. Twenty years ago, brave heroes voluntarily put themselves in danger by responding to the worst situation imaginable at the World Trade Center. Emergency Medical Technicians, Firefighters, and Police Officers took on the obligation to aid, defend, and protect all of us, regardless of the race, religion, or gender of those in need. Terrorists killed many people that day, and first responders were the heroic saints of September 11.

As I walk through Manhattan today, it reminds me of the pungent smell of ash and death that permeated New York City for months after we were attacked just one generation ago in 2001. The assault of September 11 forever etched the psyche of all Americans, young and old. As that fateful day unfolded, the events were so surreal that they were challenging for many to accept even today. Yet, this is only so until you realize that the United States was not only under attack, but that lives, property, and our way of life were under siege. As the media reported the life stories of different victims during the following months, a flood of emotions encompassed me.

The first story that touched me was that of Salman Hamdani, a 23-year-old Pakistan-born Muslim. Mr. Hamdani was a New York City Police Cadet, and he was traveling to work uptown for another job when he witnessed the smoke from the airplane strikes. Subsequently, he rushed downtown to provide medical assistance. A month later, rescue and recovery workers found this hero's remains in the rubble with his Emergency Medical Technician medical bag and police identification. This young man's story always touched me because I was also a N.Y.C. Police Cadet and I remember the enthusiasm and aspirations that I had as I started my career.

The following story that impacted me was when the remains of New York City Police Officer John Perry were recovered in December, three months after the World Trade Center had collapsed. Officer Perry had completed his law degree while working as a police officer. He was filing his retirement papers at Police Headquarters when the first airplane struck the Twin Towers. Without hesitation, this hero rushed the short distance to Ground Zero to assist, thus proving that once a Police Officer, always a Police Officer.

To this day, when I think of this hero's story, I break out crying. Perhaps this is because I can identify a little bit with Officer Perry as I too went to school to complete my college degree while I worked as a New York City Police Officer. Upon graduation, I also went to Police Headquarters to file my retirement papers because I accepted a transfer into the Nassau County Police Department. Nevertheless, as I was blessed enough to continue the next phase of my career, Officer Perry was killed before starting his. While terrorists interrupted his aspirations that day, Officer Perry could still fulfill his true calling of assisting his fellow-men when they were in need.

The media's reporting of the only female police officer killed during the attacks confirms that mothers are the real heroines of humanity. No one encompasses this sentiment more than Police Officer Moira Ann Smith. After her death, investigators acknowledged that Police Officer Smith was the first to notify radio dispatch of the attacks to the World Trade Center. This mother of a two-year-old daughter raced towards ground zero to assist her fellow New Yorkers, as she had done throughout her 13-year police career.

Officer Smith calmly helped multiple victims exit the crash scene, and she selfishly reentered the building only with her flashlight and motherly demeanor until the building collapsed. Workers recovered her remains and police shield six months after her death.

The final story that emotionally overwhelms and inspires me at the same time is about the Chaplain of the New York City Fire Department. The Franciscan Catholic Priest, The Reverend Father Mychal Fallon Judge, entered one of the World Trade Center buildings after both airplanes had crashed into them to give spiritual guidance and pray for the rescuers. As one of the towers collapsed, Father Mychal was struck in the head by the resulting debris and died. First responders removed his body from the scene, and the medical examiner designated him as Victim 0001 of the attacks. I do not remember who it was that stated the following, but "as the first official casualty of that day, in death, Father Mychal was able to greet and comfort the nearly 3000 victims of 9/11."

All four of these heroes had something in common. While most people instinctively run away from danger, these four voluntarily entered Ground Zero to aid their fellow men. I thank them and will never forget them as my heroic saints. I offer prayers for all the first responders who selflessly gave of themselves that day. I also pray to those who continue to suffer medical complications due to their actions during the subsequent rescue and recovery efforts. I also want to thank Jesus Christ for protecting me during my police career.

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