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9/11 memorial

The Unsung Heroes of 9/11

Image: Photo Spirit /

Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives on September 11, 2001, and countless more lives would have been lost if not for the brave and selfless acts of many fire-fighters, police officers and unheralded others. Fifteen years after that tragic day, we honour a few of those 'others' who went above and beyond the call of duty.

Jason Thomas

Upon hearing the news of the attacks on the Twin Towers, ex U.S. Marine Jason Thomas donned his military uniform and made his way to Ground Zero. 'Someone needed help. It didn't matter who', Thomas recounted later. 'I didn't even have a plan. But I have all this training as a Marine, and all I could think was: my city is in need'.

Thomas joined forces with another ex U.S. Marine David Karnes and armed with just flashlights and a shovel, they set out in search of survivors. Darkness had enveloped the scene by the time they discovered two Port Authority police officers buried in the rubble. Both officers were subsequently rescued and after another two and a half weeks helping at Ground Zero, Thomas returned to his life without even telling his family about the rescues. It wasn't until years later when Thomas was inaccurately portrayed in Oliver Stone's film, World Trade Center, that his true identity came to light.

Mark Bingham, Jeremy Glick, Todd Beamer, Todd Burnett

Of the four hijacked planes on September 11, 2001 only United Flight 93 failed to reach its target, believed to be either the White House or the Capitol Building. Instead the commercial airliner crashed into an open field in Pennsylvania, killing all those on board (44 people including the hijackers) but not a single person on the ground. Why had it failed to reach its target? Having learnt the fate of the three other hijacked planes through mobile phone calls, a small group of brave passengers, led by those mentioned above, decided to try and take back the airliner from the hijackers in control. During the ensuing struggle, the hijackers decided to crash the plane into a field, rather than lose control of the aircraft. The actions of those few passengers undoubtedly saved the lives of many others on the ground.

Rescue dogs

In total, around 300 dogs contributed to the rescue and recovery efforts around Ground Zero. Working in extremely difficult and dangerous conditions, the rescue dogs relentlessly searched for survivors, often enduring bloodied paws and sleepless nights. Every much a part of the rescue effort as their human counterparts, they also raised the spirits of those around them. “Those dogs brought the power of hope. They removed the gloom for just an instant — and that was huge because it was a pretty dismal place to be” recalls Dr. Cindy Otto, a vet who worked with 9/11 search dogs. Bretagne, a 16-year-old golden retriever was the last surviving rescue dog from that fateful day. She was put to sleep in June 2016, entering the hospital through a tunnel of saluting officers.

For more articles about 9/11, check out our September 11th attacks hub