Twenty years on, more than 7,300 days, and the images and stories can still bring you right back to that terrible day. But the 9/11 anniversary is, and always will be, a time to remember not just the horrors but the heroes.
The moments of silence, starting at 8:46 a.m., are rightly when we pause and reflect on the nearly 3,000 lost to the terror attacks. The reading of names by loved ones is always a heartbreaker, perhaps even more so now that some of those who take the stage were babes in the womb when the towers fell.
“When I was younger, I’d say to my mom, ‘I wish daddy wasn’t so brave,’” Alexa Smagala says in the new Magnolia Network and Discovery+ documentary “Rebuilding Hope: The Children of 9/11.”
Her dad, Stanley Smagala Jr., a firefighter with Brooklyn’s Engine 226, died at 36, climbing a South Tower staircase when the building collapsed. “I think about those last few moments when he was running into the building, knowing he’d probably never come out,” Alexa, a sophomore at the University of Central Florida, added.
Yet these young adults are also living proof of triumph over evil, of life marching on after indescribable loss. Indeed, the cover of The Post’s 20th-anniversary section is an inspiration: 65 men and women who chose to honor their first-responder fathers lost as a result of the attacks — by themselves joining the FDNY.
“It makes me proud to put on the same uniform he died for,” James Dowell of Brooklyn’s Rescue 2 told us, hefting the Halligan pry bar that belonged to his dad, Lt. Kevin C. McDowell of Rescue 4 in Woodside, Queens. Kevin’s remains were never recovered, but the Halligan with its trademark “KD” soldered on was. “We took it as our memento of him.”
Heroes beget heroes, and not just among their own children. Those who stood up on 9/11 remind Americans who we are: Resilient. Defiant in the face of terror. United in our patriotism.
This is the American spirit, the human spirit.
Equities trader Welles Crowther, a volunteer firefighter in his teens, helped strangers escape the 78th-floor sky lobby, even carrying an injured woman on his back 15 flights — then went back up again. Later found dead at age 24 alongside several FDNY firefighters, he came to be known as “the man in the red bandana.”
Rick Rescorla, a Vietnam vet who worked as head of corporate security for Morgan Stanley, saved 2,700 lives: He ignored Port Authority orders to keep his employees at his desk.
“I said, ‘Piss off, you son of a b—h,’” Rescorla reportedly told close friend Daniel Hill by phone that morning. “Everything above where that plane hit is going to collapse, and it’s going to take the whole building with it. I’m getting my people the f–k out of here.”
And he did. He was last seen on the 10th floor of the South Tower.
Off-duty firefighter Stephen Sillers planned to meet his brothers for golf when he heard the twin towers had been struck. He grabbed his gear and took off in his own truck. Unable to drive through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, he suited up in 60 pounds of gear and took off on foot instead. He died in the South Tower’s collapse.
Remember, too, those brave souls on Flight 93, who charged the hijacked cockpit, bringing the Washington-bound plane crashing down in a field in Shanksville, Pa., preventing a hit on the White House or Capitol.
Every 9/11 anniversary is a day of tremendous sadness but also one of awe and gratitude for so many firefighters, police and civilians who faced down horror and fear to serve us all. Never forget.