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You don’t need a movie to see the real heroes of 9/11

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A new, controversial Hollywood film can't touch the true stories of sacrifice and bravery on that tragic day.

Few people have seen the new R-rated drama 9/11 just yet. But no matter: Everyone already hates it.

You might blame 9/11‘s first trailer, released in July. Those who saw it called it “beyond offensive” and “horrific.” “It’s awful and manipulative and makes me mad at everyone involved,” tweeted one user.

Or blame the decision to cast Charlie Sheen — a noted 9/11 truther — as the film’s star. A curious move, one might say.

Whatever the reason for the blowback, this intimate disaster drama — depicting the saga of five people trapped on a World Trade Center elevator during 9/11 — has already been scourged from one end of the internet to the other. Seems that our popular culture — at least the slice of it prone to internet rants — isn’t particularly interested in 9/11′s band of fictional heroes.

Which is just fine. After all, as terrible as the tragedy was, the real events of September 11, 2001 gave us plenty of real heroes to consider.

Tom Rinaldi chronicled one in his book The Red Bandanna: A Life, A Choice, A Legacy. It’s the story of Welles Crowther, and the book takes its name from the red bandanna Welles always carried with him — even as a buttoned-down equities trader working in the World Trade Center’s South Tower.

Welles saw his father wrap a comb in a bandanna before they went to church. When Welles was 6, his dad gave him his first red bandanna — explaining that a white handkerchief was “for show,” the red bandanna “for blow.” From then on, Welles carried a red bandanna everywhere, tying it around his head while playing lacrosse for Boston College.

And during 9/11, when most everyone in the South Tower was moving down the stairs, Welles was moving back up — a red bandanna covering his nose and mouth to stave off smoke as he searched for people who needed help.

Some say that Welles helped rescue as many as 18 people that morning, but the 24-year-old couldn’t save himself. His body was later found among those of several firefighters. You can watch ESPN’s moving documentary on Welles on YouTube.

But heroes were plentiful that day.

When the North Tower was hit, the Port Authority told folks in the South Tower to stay put. Rick Rescorla, who’d earned a Silver Star in Vietnam, was head of corporate security for Morgan Stanley in the South Tower: He decided to order an evacuation anyway, and his quick decision saved the lives of more than 2,700 people. During the evacuation, according to The Washington Post, Rescorla sang “God Bless America” and “Men of Harlech” over a bullhorn, encouraging evacuees to stay calm. He died that day looking for survivors. He was last seen on the tenth floor.

Wikipedia CC
Rick Rescorla.

Benjamin Clark saved hundreds more. The chef, who prepared meals for the Fiduciary Trust Company, helped guide everyone off the South Tower’s 96th floor, where most wound down the stairs to safety. Clark didn’t. Instead, he stopped on the 78th floor to help a woman in a wheelchair. “My son was a Marine, so you know he wasn’t going to leave anybody behind,” his mother, Elsie, later told The Daily Beast.

AP Images
Benjamin Clark's Family.

But it wasn’t just those who helped shepherd people out of the towers who deserve praise. Heroism took many forms, and in many different places. On American Airlines Flight 11, flight attendants Betty Ong and Amy Sweeney calmly contacted their earthbound colleagues to tell them what was happening on board. They relayed vital information about the plane’s hijackers, which sped the subsequent investigation. Before Flight 11 even crashed into the North Tower, American Airlines already had the names and addresses of three of the five hijackers. During her call, Ong also asked Nydia Gonzales, who was an operations specialist at American Airlines, to “pray for us.”

Wikipedia CC
Amy Sweeney.

At the Pentagon, Beau Doboszenski, a tour guide, didn’t even hear the plane crash into the building: No surprise, perhaps, being that the complex is the largest office building in the world. He could’ve gone home once he learned of the attacks. Instead, the Army specialist and trained EMT rushed to the site of the crash. For the next several hours, he alternated between tending to the wounded and rushing into the still flaming building to look for survivors.

We all know the selfless heroism that took place on Flight 93, a hijacked plane allegedly targeting either the White House or the United States Capitol building. By that time, word had gotten out that the United States was under a terrorist attack. And when they learned that their own plane might be part of the same plan, a handful of passengers, including Mark Bingham, Jeremy Glick, Todd Beamer and Tom Burnett aimed to stop it. “You ready?” Beamer could be heard saying during a cell phone call. “Okay, let’s roll.” The attack on D.C. was stopped: The plane crashed in Pennsylvania, killing everyone on board but missing its intended target.

Wikipedia
Todd Beamer.

Those passengers likely saved the lives of Lt. Heather Penney and Col. Marc Sasseville, Air National Guard pilots who scrambled their F-16s to intercept Flight 93. Had the flight not crashed in Pennsylvania, Penney and Sasseville were charged with bringing the Boeing 757 down — even though they knew it’d likely be a kamikaze mission. They simply didn’t have time before the scramble to arm their jets. “We wouldn’t be shooting it down,” Penney later told C-SPAN. “We would be ramming the aircraft, because we didn’t have weapons on board to be able to shoot the airplane down.”

The new 9/11 movie may not be worth seeing. But we still have plenty of stories worth telling. These are only a few. The tales of the heroes that day could probably fill a library.

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