An excerpt from The Memory of Hope, by Tucker Elliot.
The first wave was brave men and women in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania. Office workers who refused to leave colleagues behind as they evacuated the burning towers. Police officers and firemen who must have known that rushing into those buildings and climbing those stairs meant a certain death—and yet they never hesitated. The people on the streets of Lower Manhattan, in the debris, rendering aid to strangers—this after having seen two planes crash, and not knowing if other planes were on the way. A mayor who went to ground zero with a bullhorn, in harm’s way but leading in a crisis. The news personnel that documented the tragedy but did so with humanity.
The first wave continued—flight attendants and passengers who fought back, and soldiers and civilians who braved the burning wreckage of the Pentagon to reach the injured and dying.
The first wave was the men and women who went to Wall Street to reopen the Stock Exchange. It was the teachers who welcomed students back to school when smoke from Ground Zero could still be seen from classroom windows. It was the people who stood in line to give blood. It was the medical personnel—doctors, nurses, paramedics, mental health professionals—who were the first responders on that Tuesday in September, and it was the ones who in the days that followed worked tirelessly around the clock in hospitals, parking lots, on the streets.
It was the single mom store clerk in Times Square who might have been afraid but she went back to work anyway. The transit workers who got a city moving again. The rescue and construction crews that breathed contaminated air and would forever suffer physically and emotionally from digging through the wreckage, looking for survivors, recovering remains of the people we lost, cleaning up the debris, and rebuilding.
It was the airline industry and its employees that held their own grievous loss in check so that they might fly again—not just for commerce and free markets, but so a way of life could get back on its feet and give the finger to a group of radical terrorists.
It was the guardsmen and women called to duty from states all across our great country—the weekend warriors had a mission unprecedented in our nation’s history, and they committed to doing their part, and doing it well.
It was normal, everyday Americans, from all walks of life, doing what they could, where they were, no matter how big or small.
It was our military. Courageous men and women who would fight and die for an idea—that life, liberty and the ability to passionately chase our dreams still matter.
They were the first wave of heroes.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks were a national tragedy for America, but for the men, women and children who lost family and friends on that day it was incredibly personal. We really had no choice, though. We had to stand back up. We would grieve, but we’d do so on our feet and moving forward.