9/11 heroes – or victims?

John Gilleeny, a retired firefighter, sends word that in her new book, Susan Faludi says that there were no heroes on 9/11, only victims:

In the end, the character actors who won the 9/11 hero sweepstakes were the New York City firemen. Their uniforms and the direction in which they were heading provided a clear demarcation between them, the heroes, and the office workers, the victims. The secretaries and financial brokers ran down the stairs; the firemen ran up – 343 of them to their deaths. Conveniently for the mythmakers, less than 0.3% of New York’s firefighters were women. There would be no need to rewrite the gender roles in this drama. The adulation began at once.

In our “different kind of war”, these uniformed men were assigned the role of our new supersoldiers. “These are the men who will fight our wars,” President Bush intoned, after posing with the firefighters at the smouldering ruins, as if he were their commanding officer. “These men are fighting the first battle,” Mayor Giuliani declared. In fact, he maintained, they had already won it. “Our firefighters helped save more than 25,000 lives that day – the greatest single rescue mission in America’s history.” That was a claim the surviving firefighters themselves would regard as preposterous. Of the 16,000 to 18,000 occupants of the World Trade Centre that day, 95% of those who died were on the upper floors, beyond reach of rescue, and most of those on the lower floors rescued themselves without uniformed help. The grim truth is that the human toll would have been significantly lower had the firefighters never entered the buildings.

She goes on.

John added his comments:

Femanazis hatred? White, middle class, ‘silent’ minority…males. Words taken out of context. Innuendo. Soundbites. Depositions given while under extreme post traumatic stress. All First Responders who perished were Heroes. Many Victims were Heroes. Radical Muslim miscreants murdered all First Responders and Civilians. Some would rather blame 9-11 on anyone except Muslim infidels.

Here is my response:

I doubt that Susan Faludi has done much more than bravely carry too many bags of groceries, all at once, from her car to her kitchen. All you need to read by her is, “The grim truth is that the human toll would have been significantly lower had the firefighters never entered the buildings.” She argued using an “unassailable” truth; Ms. Faludi chose a side and argued it without giving voice to better angels.

Who shows up after someone dials 9-1-1 and reports that there is a crazed gunman roaming a college campus or a dozen people are believed trapped on the upper floor of a burning apartment building? For that matter, why have but 0.5% of all our citizens gone off to this war and stayed in the fight since 9/11? Unlike Susan Faludi, millions freely choose to be at the other end of the call. Those of us who have entered the arena know the answer to my questions: someone had to do it and if not us, then who? Perhaps Admiral Halsey said it best, right after Guadalcanal, “There aren’t any great men. There are just great challenges that ordinary men like you and me are forced by circumstances to meet.” That ‘force’ being the moral courage that causes some to step forward when many others either cannot or will not step forward.

To begin to respond to Susan Faludi, most civilians did self-evacuate. Yet untold thousands of civilians assisted others, went back upstairs, helped first responders, and aided those coming away from the World Trade Center. Thousands of troops and DoD civilians rushed in or near the burning and soon to collapse wing of the Pentagon. Some actually died in that effort. Search your memories or the archives of any major newspaper if you need reminded.

As for United Airlines Flight 93, I have not read her book yet apparently, Susan Faludi denies all the evidence that contradicts her from the Moussaoui trial and written about in the New York Times. Use that link, read that article, and click on the multimedia graphic ’10:01:59′ to the left of the article. I have personally spoken with the only witness to the plane coming over that rise, bobbing and jinking in the air, then rolling over and nosing into the ground. Those passengers and crew bravely fought, died, and won the first battle of this War on Terror.

The shocked passengers aboard flights 77, 11, and 175 had little time to assess the situation before terrorists murdered them. Yet they also knew most survived previous hijackings by waiting it out. Aboard those flights, it would take a while before word was passed and reality set in that some crewmembers and passengers had been murdered. God only knows their courage.

What a very few of the living know is, the flight and voice recorders aboard American Airlines Flight 77 clearly indicate the struggle inside the cockpit lasted for 6 minutes. One family member described that in enough detail for me to assert the pilot and his first officer died fighting to their last breaths.

In the South Tower, the job became reaching those above the fire floor after it was learned there was one open stairway, stairwell A. At 9:57 a.m., two minutes before that tower fell, Battalion 7 Chief Orio Palmer found that opening, reached the 79th floor, radioed for Battalion 9 Chief Ed Geraghty to come up, and for my brother-in-law, Lt. Joe Leavey, to join him. All told, somewhere near a hundred firefighters and police officers died in the effort to reach the 700 trapped above, those unaware of that way out. We know 18 civilians did survive by using that stairway to escape from above the fire floor and four of them (plus a Fire Marshal who helped one injured woman) lived because FF Tommy Kelly (Ladder 15 OV) shuttled the injured down as he brought up first responders.

The chiefs in the North Tower’s lobby soon realized the fires could not be fought to extinction and decided to make it solely a rescue operation. Yet dozens of injured, previously disabled, and disoriented people who could not make it out on their own, were gathered upstairs and assisted by firefighters. FDNY Chief Picciotto described a good bit of that in his book Last Man Down. He then started to evacuate while accompanying FDNY Engine Ladder 6 as they carried one woman out. Only those who have actually carried someone down 30 flights know how physically tough that was. Whole fire companies, four or five firefighters, were the ones doing that heavy lifting. To have done that while knowing buildings collapse (and some knew that the South Tower had already collapsed) and that many floors of the building above them were engulfed for more than an hour, took raw courage. Hundreds more outside the WTC were assisted by first responders (at risk to their own lives) on 9/11.

Rudy Giuliani did not lie one word at that last 9/11 Commission hearing; many got the word to evacuate, hesitated, or first set off to ensure all the Brothers were on the way out, and many died because of it. Surely, the numbers would have changed had all the radios worked perfectly; a few more might have lived and perhaps the number ‘323’ or ‘293’ would have come to vogue instead of the ‘343.’

I tried to do all the heroes of that day and the days that followed some justice with these words, within my eulogy for Joe, on November 13, 2001, at his funeral:

“We may someday learn what those who died did that day or perhaps be left to only wonder. What we do know, what we are sure of is, more people were saved that day than on any other day in America’s history.

“Yet even if they saved but one life or even no one, they tried and that’s what matters, all those who struggled on the Pile, who helped and tried to help, or merely said a prayer, you mattered.”

No words will ever do them full justice.

All that said, Susan Faludi be damned.

— Tim Sumner

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