Thursday, September 8, 2011

Three 9/11 Heroes

Lawrence Stack

Brooklyn firefighter Mike Stack only learned how his father died some time after Sept. 11, 2001, when a fellow firefighter told him that Lawrence Stack had spent his final moments waiting with an injured hotel employee outside of the World Trade Center Marriott.

Moments before, Lawrence Stack, a 33-year veteran and safety battalion chief, had helped dig Lt. John Citarella from the building's rubble and sent him and another officer to safety.

"That's just him," Mike Stack said, his voice tightening. "He's not going to leave anyone. He was probably telling him everything's going to be all right, we're gonna get you out of here - and then it ended."

Stack joined about 1,200 relatives of 441 other public safety officers to accept the 9/11 Heroes Medal of Valor in a ceremony on the White House South Lawn. The Medal of Valor is the United States' highest honor for public safety officers.

"This is really for my boys," said Kim Moran, whose sons Ryan and Dylan were 7 and 4 respectively their father, Battalion Chief John Moran, was killed in the attacks. "They're going to remember this day forever. I got three kids, and this was their grandfather. And they're going to want to know it," he said. "It's so important to tell the story."

The medal will serve much the same purpose. Lawrence Stack's coat, the only evidence of his presence recovered from Ground Zero, now hangs in a shadow box in his house.

Canine Hero

While there were hundreds of human heroes in the days following the Sept. 11 attacks, there were four-legged heroes too — the dogs who searched for survivors and bodies in the rubble of buildings and planes.

Red, a 12 year-old Labrador who searched the rubble of the Pentagon with her handler, is among those retired as an active search dog. Her legs are not as spry as they once were but in her temperament Red still appears to have that same devotion to the search.

Not long after American Airlines flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, Red was at work. She was 18 months old and only recently certified as a rescue dog, a rookie among more veteran canines. Red searched the debris pile with an energy that surprised even her handler, Heather Roche.

“I never thought she would be a successful search dog and actually at six months old I found a pet home for her and had found another dog. I thought ... her personality is not what is needed for a working dog,” Roche told Reuters TV.“And then, no matter what I asked her to do — whether it was climbing up things, going somewhere as I stayed far away, ladders, you name it — she did it every single time and she did it perfectly,” Roche said.

For weeks, Red navigated the hazards of the rubble piles amid the clatter and chaos following 9/11. After Red discovered dozens of bodies, Roche was sure that, among the rescue dogs working the pile, hers was one of the greats, though the dogs generally were impressive.

By the time we were done every day, they slept hard ... but they were willing the next morning. They were rejuvenated and pulling on the leash to go back to work,” Roche said.

Ten years on, Roche, who keeps Red with her in Annapolis, Maryland, is still deep in the tight community of canine search and rescue. She and other handlers train their dogs in a simulated disaster environment such as one in suburban Washington with an obstacle course of a fabricated rubble site made of concrete blocks and wooden pallets.

Roche says the experience of 9/11 has demonstrated the importance of training dogs in these hazardous environments.

In her retirement, Red still tags along on some search missions. She wants to work, even if her body has lost a step or two in these past 10 years.

And, just as the human first responders continue to suffer ailments attributed to their work at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the handlers of estimated 300 canine search and rescue teams know the dogs who worked in the days and weeks following Sept. 11, 2001 also gave up a part of themselves. “With her, you know she’s earned the right to do anything she wants,” Roche said.

Sgt Jason Thomas

Sgt. Jason Thomas is a 9/11 hero. He is an American Marine, retired, who saved lives on September 11, 2001. No one knew who he was and what he had done for several years after the events of that day.

On September 11, 2001, while most people were running for their lives from the burning, collapsing towers that were the World Trade Center, there were some who ran towards the buildings. One of those who went towards danger to save others was Jason Thomas.

Jason Thomas is a former Marine Sergeant who was dropping his daughter off at his mother’s house in Long Island, New York when he was told that planes had hit the World Trade Center. He left there, went home and put on his Marine uniform and went to the site of the attacks. When he arrived one of the towers was collapsing. Thomas parked his car and ran toward and into the horrific cloud of ash.

He helped firefighters, survivors and prayed over the dead. Eventually, he met up another former Marine, Staff Sgt. Dave Karnes. The two men decided to start their own search and rescue mission in the tower of debris that had been the World Trade Center. They were told it was too dangerous to venture there. They said someone needed their help and they were going anyway.

With nothing more than flashlights and an infantryman’s shovel they climbed onto and into the debris shouting out for any survivors. Eventually, they found and rescued New York City Police Officers Will Jimeno and John McLoughlin who were buried in the debris but still alive.

Jason Thomas continued to help with search and rescue for a couple of weeks after the events of September 11th. He was remembered by those whom he rescued, but he never identified himself to others at the site other than as Sgt. Thomas. After he’d been at Ground Zero for a little over two weeks, he walked away. He never told his wife and five children that he was a 9/11 hero.

When a movie was made in 2006 about the rescue of the police officers, Thomas realized that he was being portrayed in the movie. At that point, the mysterious hero came forward and identified himself.

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