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How a firefighter saved me on 9/11

On Sept. 11 2011 CBS News correspondent Carol Marshares her nearly fatal experience covering World Trade Center attack with anchor

On Sept. 11, 2011, CBS News correspondent Carol Marin shares her nearly fatal experience covering the World Trade Center attack with anchor Dan Rather on CBS’ “Attack on America” coverage. | CBS Worldwide Inc.

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Updated: May 9, 2012 9:48AM

So many images, sharp and distinct, play in my head on this anniversary of 9/11.

The firefighter

First and foremost is the firefighter whose name I may never know who saved me in the crash of the second tower of the World Trade Center.

I was at the time a correspondent for CBS News and was in New York the morning of the attacks. When the planes hit the towers, I raced to the site to cover the story. I was on West Street, within a block or two of the north tower, when the ground rumbled and roared. And a firefighter screamed at me to “Run!”

A fireball of ignited jet fuel consumed the base of the north tower as the building melted and crashed into the ground. The firefighter threw me against a nearby building and shielded my body with his. I could feel the pounding of his heart against my backbone.

In seconds the air was black and thick with debris.

If the building didn’t kill us, I thought, the air was going to.

My firefighter handed me off to a New York City cop before I could ask the firefighter his name. And that police officer, Brendan Duke, and I walked hand in hand, our other hands covering our faces in an effort not to breathe in the bits and pieces of everything and everyone housed within those buildings that once defined the New York skyline.

Step-by-step, street-by-street, we made it into clearer air until we could see daylight again. And breathe again.

It was a New York City bus driver, Bill McRay, who picked me up, all covered in ash, and drove me back to the CBS Broadcast Center where I walked onto the news set, sat down with Dan Rather and reported what I’d seen.

My great regret for the last 10 years is that I never got the name of the firefighter who saved me. But he was gone in an instant, turning back toward the site of the tower’s collapse.

I pray he is alive. And well.

The first flights out

After the attacks, no flights went out across this country. Not until the weekend after 9/11 did planes begin to fly again.

I was on one of those first flights, allowed to go home to Chicago for a day before turning around to return to work in New York.

I will never forget the stoic faces of my fellow passengers.

In the rows around me were American Airlines pilots and flight attendants whose colleagues had just perished on the hijacked planes that crashed into the Trade Center and the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania.

If there was any doubt that things would never be the same for any of us in this country, it was erased by what happened as they took their seats.

The flight attendant in charge slowly approached each pilot and asked for his cockpit keys. Each pilot solemnly surrendered them.

Five days after 9/11, only the pilots in the cockpit were allowed to hold a key to the door separating them from passengers who could do them harm.

Lifting off from LaGuardia, we could see the smoke rising from the ground from which the World Trade Center once rose.

No one said a word.

We go on

In the days that followed 9/11, we reported on the funerals of the men and women who died that day.

I keep remembering one staggering statistic.

In just one company hit in the Trade Center attacks, 1,500 children had lost at least one parent.

Middletown, N.J., just across the river from where the World Trade Center once was, overnight became a town of young widows and fatherless children.

One of those children, Anthony Picerno, lost his dad, who worked for the Cantor Fitzgerald firm.

His mother showed me the letter he wrote to his father just hours after his funeral.

It read, “Dear Dad, I hope you’re having a good time in heaven. You would not believe how many people came to your funeral. There was about a thousand. Don’t worry Dad. I’ll still get good marks in school . . . I’m gonna take care of mom . . . PS: Whenever I’m alone, I’ll always look up and say, “What’s up, Dad?”

In looking back on this somber anniversary, we honor those who were taken from us by terrorism.

But by looking forward, we honor those lives as well.

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