Heroes of the World Trade Center

Uncommon valor was a common virtue
— Admiral Chester Nimitz, 1945

A year has passed since terrorists attacked the United States, but time hasn't diminished the heroism shown that day by the search and rescue teams at the Pentagon and the World Trade Center site.

On 9/11, we learned the meanings of "dedication" and "sacrifice," from the crew on Flight 93 who rushed the hijackers and prevented the deaths of even more innocent people, to the firefighters who rushed into the burning World Trade Center. We learned from the rescue and recovery crews, who searched tirelessly for survivors … or for victims to bring a small measure of comfort to a family.

The dogs that led the rescue and recovery teams have become famous for their efforts and dedication. A year later, the nation pauses to remember the fallen, and to honor the courage of all involved.

That courage began moments after the first Boeing airliner struck the World Trade Center, as dogs led the blind through the smoky confusion to safety. Improbable but true stories emerged, such as the one in which a guide dog refuses to leave his charge's side. The blind man took the dog off the leash to give the canine a fighting chance to escape, after the airliner struck the building 20 floors above.

With glass raining down, the dog ran away initially, but returned to lead the man down 70 floors to safety. On the 78th floor, a similar story unfolded. Roselle, also a Labrador retriever, was sleeping under the desk of Michael Hingson, a sales manager who worked in the World Trade Center. The collision and explosion woke Roselle. She guided Hingson through the smoke and the smell of burning jet fuel to the emergency exit and down the stairs.

On the ground, the first rescue dog was on scene 15 minutes after the first tower collapsed. Apollo, a 10-year-old German shepherd, was nearly killed by the fire. But his handler brushed off burning embers, and the two went to work.

If the dogs involved in these and so many other rescues could speak, they would only say that they were simply following their nature. The same can be said of the people who continue to find ways to help out during the crisis. Simply put, you'll never find a hero who admits to being one. They simply don't know how else to respond.

Heroes Door-to-Door

In New York, hundreds of people rescued pets stranded in apartments near Ground Zero and throughout the city. Dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets and reptiles were treated for shock, dehydration and respiratory distress by mobile veterinary units run by the Suffolk County SPCA, and other veterinary agencies.

Acts of bravery by volunteers were not limited to just traditional pets. The rescue of a gecko named "Little Dude," for example, required climbing 39 floors. Little Dude was soon reunited with his owner.

Heroes Across the Nation

Within the first hours of the attack, the nation rose to the challenge without hesitation. Crises do bring out the best, and it is helpful to be reminded that heroism – rather than hate – is the norm in the United States. Blood donations quickly overwhelmed storage facilities. Likewise, donations of supplies for the search dog teams exceeded expectations, and people were asked to stop. New York Center for Animal Care and Control had reported that it had received "more dog food than we can possibly use."

Many servers connected to charities were overloaded from the outpouring of assistance to this national crisis. A nonprofit charity portal, set up by AOL, helped to alleviate the strain on the lines. The portal, called Helping.org, was connected to 650,000 nonprofits, including the Red Cross.