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PEOPLE IN AMERICA - Dec. 30: Heroes of September Eleventh - 2001-12-27


I’m Sarah Long.


And I’m Bob Doughty with the VOA Special English Program, PEOPLE IN AMERICA. Today we tell about some men and women who died during the September eleventh terrorist attacks on the United States.

Many of these people died while trying to save the lives of others. They are honored as American heroes.



On Tuesday, September eleventh, terrorists hijacked four large civilian passenger airplanes in the United States. All four flights were traveling from the eastern part of the country to the West Coast.

At fifteen minutes before nine in the morning in New York City, one of the planes crashed into the north building of the World Trade Center. The airplane tore a huge hole in the building, and the plane’s fuel immediately caused a large fire.

Eighteen minutes later, another plane crashed into the south building of the World Trade Center. The second plane also exploded and caused a huge fire.

Later, both of these buildings, among the tallest in the United States, fell to the ground. About three-thousand people were killed.


A third hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon at twenty minutes before ten. The Pentagon is the headquarters of the Defense Department, near Washington, D-C.

Minutes later, police in the eastern state of Pennsylvania confirmed that a fourth and final hijacked airplane traveling toward Washington had crashed. There were no survivors.

Experts later said the passengers on this fourth plane fought with the terrorists in an effort to regain control of the plane.

Officials believe it is likely that this plane was being flown to a target in the nation’s capital. The brave actions of the passengers on this flight may have saved thousands of lives.


Among the passengers on flight Ninety-Three was thirty-two-year-old Todd Beamer. He worked for Oracle computer company. He was traveling to California for business on September eleventh.

Normally, Mister Beamer would have left the night before, but he and his wife Lisa had just returned from a week-long trip to Italy. He wanted to spend some extra time with his two young children.

Lisa Beamer told reporters she never received a telephone call from her husband before his plane crashed on September eleventh. Missus Beamer said she thought this was strange, because her husband was known for using his personal phone all the time. Later she found out he did try to reach her, but his call mistakenly went to a telephone operator instead.

The operator said he sounded brave and calm in his final minutes. She believes that Todd Beamer was one of the passengers who led the effort to fight the hijackers. His final words were: “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.”


Another fearless passenger on Flight Ninety-Three was thirty-one-year-old Mark Bingham.

In college, he played rugby, a physically rough sport, for his school team. Friends told reporters that he even fought with a robber at one time to get a gun out of the man’s hands.

Mark Bingham called his mother about twenty minutes before Flight Ninety-Three crashed. His final words were: “If I don’t see you again, I love you all. It doesn’t look good.”

Several women on Flight Ninety-Three also tried to fight back.

One of the crewmembers was thirty-eight-year-old Sandy Bradshaw. She called her husband, Phil, just minutes before the plane crashed. She said that she and other crewmembers were boiling hot water to throw on the hijackers.

Sandy Bradshaw reportedly promised her husband that if she lived, she would leave her job to stay at home with their three children.


There are reports of other passengers on the plane who told family members by telephone that they were prepared to fight to protect their country. Thirteen days after Flight Ninety-Three crashed, President Bush invited the families of these brave Americans to the White House. He and First Lady Laura Bush spent time with each family member.

President Bush said the hijackers could have been targeting the White House. The passengers, he said, may have saved countless more people from dying. About one-hundred workers at the White House thanked the families as they left.



Hundreds of New York City firefighters and police officers began rescue efforts immediately after two of the hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center buildings. As people were hurrying down the stairs to escape the buildings, firefighters and policemen were hurrying up those same stairs to help bring injured victims out.

Among them was John McAvoy, a firefighter assigned to Ladder Company Three in Manhattan. In his free time, he helped train young hockey players on Staten Island where he lived with his wife, Paula. Hockey is a sport played on ice. Missus McAvoy told the New York Times newspaper that although she could never get John to dance, he skated beautifully on the ice.

John McAvoy was also loyal to his work. His brother said that once while running for exercise, John stopped to pull two older people from a burning house. He then went back for their cat before continuing with his run.


Vernon Cherry was a Brooklyn firefighter who sang at wedding ceremonies during his free time. Friends say Mister Cherry had a beautiful voice. He sang everywhere he went -- in the firehouse, while walking up the stairs, even in front of strangers.

He was also a good cook, said his friends at Ladder Company One-Hundred-Eighteen in Brooklyn Heights. Vernon Cherry worked for the New York City Fire Department for twenty-eight years.

Detective Claude Richards of the New York City Police Department died as he lived, helping people. He was a bomb expert. Friends say when Detective Richards took time off from work, he would travel to Bosnia to dig up land mines with a United Nations peacekeeping force.

Claude Richards was a former Army soldier. People he worked with say he knew how to give commands and keep a project running smoothly. He was also a hard worker and very loyal to his job.

These are a few of the about three-hundred-seventy New York firefighters and police officers who gave the own lives on September eleventh to save others.



Near Washington, more than one-hundred-eighty people died from the September eleventh attack at the Pentagon. Most of the victims were employees of the Defense Department. Sixty-four were on the plane that crashed into the building.

Last week, Pentagon officials honored the heroic actions of military and civilian people who helped victims during the terrorist attack. A total of eighty-five people received awards, such as the Navy and Marine Corps Medal. This is one of the highest awards presented to American sailors and Marines for heroic actions.


Navy Seaman Cean (Sean) Whitmarsh was one such person to receive this special award. During the attack on the Pentagon, he used his shirt to stop a man on fire from burning. He then helped the man get out of the Pentagon. Seaman Whitmarsh then went back into the crash area to lead other injured people to safety. He and his supervisor, John Krauss, saved as many as fifteen people hurt in the attack on the Pentagon.

Another Pentagon official honored earlier this month was Navy Commander Hugh Wetherald. On September eleventh, he and a group of other survivors repeatedly ran into burning areas of the Pentagon to rescue victims. During this time, he breathed in large amounts of smoke, which harmed his lungs.

Commander Wetherald runs races in his free time. He had been training for the Marine Corps Marathon. This is a twenty-five kilometer race that takes place each year through the nation’s capital. This year, the path for the race went by the Pentagon crash area.

Commander Wetherald says it was hard not to look at the damage as he passed. He says as he went by, he slowed down and thought about how far the United States had come since the attacks. He says the experience was emotional.


Navy Seaman Cean Whitmarsh and Commander Hugh Wetherald were lucky enough to survive the September eleventh terrorist attacks on the United States. However, many other individuals died while trying to rescue others. Many of their names are not well known. Yet the selfless bravery of these heroes will not be forgotten.

((MUSIC: "Amazing Grace," Bagpipe instrumentals))


This Special English Program was written by Jill Moss and directed by Caty Weaver with audio assistance by Dwayne Collins. I’m Sarah Long.


And I’m Bob Doughty. Join us again next week for another People In America Program on the VOICE OF AMERICA.

Images of firefighters John McAvoy and Vernon Cherry can be viewed at FDNY Online