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9/11 From Tragedy To Hope
Aired September 9, 2011 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DR. DREW PINSKY, HOST (voice-over): It`s been 10 years since the September 11th attacks. Tonight we remember the indescribable loss. The people whose strength, courage and love have helped rebuild America`s spirit. We salute the everyday people who became heroes. The people who risked their own lives to save others. Tonight we say thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: World Trade Center just blew up.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The world Center, that`s what they said.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My God. My God.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This just in. You`re looking at obviously a very disturbing live shot there. That is the World Trade Center. We have unconfirmed reports this morning that a plane has crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold up. People are running.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just a moment. We got an explosion inside.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The building is exploding right now! We`ve got people running up the street.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`re looking at this picture. It is the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Both of them being damaged by impacts from planes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Someone said they collapsed. I don`t know. Someone came in and told us the building had collapsed. I don`t know.
PINSKY: Tonight, a decade of healing. The 10-year anniversary of September 11th. We all remember precisely where we were when we heard the news that Tower One had been hit, and remember turning on the TV and watching the same thing happen to Tower Two.
Tonight, we`re talking to people who lived that nightmare, people whose lives in an instant changed forever. Real people just like us who became unsuspected heroes. People who have now dedicated their lives to making a change.
Tonight is not just about remembering the past. It is about moving on and healing. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a woman in a wheelchair.
MICHAEL BENFANTE, AUTHOR, RELUCTANT HERO: I acted in this only way I knew how to. I didn`t know if I could live with myself if I didn`t help her. I looked back once and I did not look back again. I started running with all my might.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael ran for his life.
MICHAEL: And a wave of debris just came over. Everything went completely black and silent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY: Michael Benfante joins us now. He`s a 9/11 survivor and hero and the author of the book "Reluctant Hero." John Feal is also here. He was a first responder now the feel good foundation is dedicated to helping 9/11 responders.
Michael, I`m going to start with you. We just saw moving CBS footage of you on 9/11. Sitting here now 10 years later, how has that day shaped your life?
BENFANTE: Well, you`d like to think I`m the same person, but definitely, definitely it affected my life in a way where I feel like I`m the same person but rearranged in a sense.
The only thing I can liken it to is having a child for the first time. You know you`re basically the same person, but it changes you. You know, you look at life from a different perspective.
Different things are important to you. And you really start to look at how we live our lives and what`s important about how we`re going to continue our lives to make the society we live in a better society.
PINSKY: Now, Michael, you were just a regular guy at work that day. And all of a sudden you`re thrust into the role of hero. Listen to this CBS interview. Michael spoke literary just moments after the tower were hit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENFANTE: Forty some odd people. Just explosion. Just light flashed out my window. My whole doorway entrance of my office blew open. My office was freaking out. I told them to calm down get to the center of the office. So I started going down the steps and I heard people shouting. I stopped at 68. There was a woman in a wheelchair. And I got her strapped in the wheelchair and carried her down the steps. And carried her down to 68 floors, man.
PINSKY: Michael, you said you could not have lived with yourself if you didn`t help her. I guess you two now have a relationship, you two keep in touch?
BENFANTE: Yes. We try to at least speak to each other once a year. I was engaged to be married at that time. Prior to 9/11 I found a place to get married at in New Jersey. And the date was September 13th, 2002. And it just so happened, that Tina attended my wedding a year later. It was just a very special evening. And I was just very fortunate to have her there, have John there, be there myself and just be around all my family and friends. You know the people that were most important to me.
PINSKY: What is Tina doing now? Can you share that with us?
BENFANTE: I spoke to her a few weeks ago. I wanted to send her a copy of the book. She sounded really good on the phone. Very upbeat, she`s married. She still works at her same job. I believe she still works. Lives here in Manhattan. She just sounded cheerful. I think she was more concerned about receiving a picture of my son than anything that had to do with the book. And I appreciated that.
PINSKY: Now, many people were running in the opposite direction. There were some who actually ran towards the towers and fearlessly fought to save others. John Feal, you got to the scene one day after the collapse. What did you see when you got there?
JOHN FEAL, 9/11 FIRST RESPONDER: Well Sir, first thank you for having me.
PINSKY: Our pleasure.
FEAL: You`re not programmed to wake up in the morning and see the devastation that we`ve witnessed. And even the cops and firefighters, I don`t think anybody was trained to see that devastation. But more importantly 9/11 gave birth to so many good people. Especially people on your show today. Cops and firefighters are heroes without 9/11. You don`t need 9/11 to call them heroes.
But it also gave birth to everyday individuals like that story that young man just told. And it really brought out the best in this country, the resolve and the spirit of the American people. The patriotism and the volunteerism on that day and those following days and weeks after, it was literally it felt good to be an American after something so horrible.
PINSKY: John, I have to agree with you. I think we`re seeing, we are sort of beginning to live in a time where heroism is something we`ve seen. And something we expect of ourselves. Not just those who are already cast as militaries. People who are firefighters or military or police officers. I think you`re right.
FEAL: Well, again, 9/11 gave birth to these - you know this country was based on volunteers 235 years ago. On 9/11 it was the single largest act of volunteerism in the history of this great nation. And even then evil intentions wanted to do much harm as possible but they were met by good and that was the resolve in the American people.
It just gave birth to great stories. 10 years later when I just listened to this story because I`ve never heard of it, it moves me inside. I see pain and devastation every day by running the FealGood Foundation. We help people who are sick and dying, who have passed away from their illnesses, but when I hear a story like this, it brings back old memories.
PINSKY: Can you share one of those with us? The memories that you have from that first day of responding.
FEAL: Again, I don`t know if it`s a gift or a curse and I don`t know if I`m going to need therapy in 20 years from now. But I can block out those five days I was there before I was horribly injured when eight thousand pounds of steel crushed my left foot. I spent eleven weeks in the hospital fighting for my life with gangrene. But what I saw was just pure devastation. And nobody, nobody should have to see something like that if you`re just not trained to see that.
Your body, your mind`s just not programmed to see that. No one in this history other than Pearl Harbor which was another generation saw that kind of devastation. And the pictures on TV don`t really tell the true story of those dark days that day and the days that followed. At all. You know, what I remember most of 9/11 was macho, burly, muscular, tattooed, mustaches as the size of small dog`s men crying and hugging each other. These were cops and firefighters and construction workers. That`s what I remember most.
PINSKY: There`s an image that stayed with me which people maybe didn`t know that there were children who drew pictures, I get moved when I think about it. Of not inspiration but wishes for the families and people there. These crayon drawings were all up around the lower side of Manhattan. They were on all the buildings. There were pictures of the people lost and the pictures the children had put up. And the one as I stopped at a stoplight crossing the street that stayed was the Twin Towers on a cloud with wings.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I want you all to know that America today, America today is on bended knee. In prayer for the people whose lives were lost here, for the workers who work here, for the families who mourn. This nation stands with the good people of New York City. And New Jersey and Connecticut. As we mourn the loss of thousands of our citizens.
I can hear you! I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down with hear all of us soon.
CROWD: USA! USA! USA!
BUSH: Today we`ve had a national tragedy. Two airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center in an apparent terrorist attack on our country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We thought it was something out of a movie. It just didn`t seem real. The airplane came in at a tilt. We heard the scream of the plane then a crack, crack, crack, boom, boom, boom. And the plane just disappeared. You didn`t see the plane anymore and you saw the blowout from the other side. Right now, I have images that will never leave my mind.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael and coworker John didn`t hesitate. They picked up 41-year-old Tina Hanson (ph) in her wheelchair and began carrying her down. Down 68 flights of stairs.
BENFANTE: We placed her into the ambulance and at that point she sits down and it`s the first time she became upset and started to cry.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did she say anything to you?
BENFANTE: She motioned for me to give her a hug.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You never knew her name?
BENFANTE: Never knew her name.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it was people magazine who told you her name?
BENFANTE: Yes. And that she was alive. I couldn`t speak to the woman after that. I was like a baby. I was crying.
PINSKY: Tonight the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. The unthinkable attack that changed people forever. Think about how it shaped your life. I`m here with first responder John Feal, survivor Michael Benfante.
Michael, in your book you say you`re still haunted by nightmares and you know memories of that day. I thought it was profound you wrote about your father telling you and you now telling the same thing to your son to change your thinking. To think about the positive things you know are true. And tell us how that advice has helped you out.
BENFANTE: Well, as a result of - you saw the clip earlier where I was being interviewed. What people don`t realize was I just got out of the tower and I just witnessed you know something you never want to see in your life. I saw a body falling. I just seen that, and all of a sudden a camera is in my face and they`re interviewing me.
And, you know, to just witness something like that and have this camera in your face was a surreal moment. I was trying to get my mind around it. And when you know you`ve seen things that can`t be unseen and you remember things that you`ll remember for the rest of your life, it can haunt you.
You know, I`m sure I was a victim of some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder not even realizing it. And part of that because you`ve witnessed these unspeakable things that you have a tendency to dream about them subconsciously. You know I don`t ever really dream about that day and events of that day. But I never have good dreams. My dreams usually involve struggles or unfinished business or - it`s never a peaceful dream. I always feel like I`ve never slept.
But if you focus on that and that`s all you`re focusing on, that`s the way your life is going to be. That`s what happened to me. I got away from what was important from that day. All of the other countless acts of service and kindness and the ultimate sacrifice in the firemen I passed on the way down. That`s the true character, I think, of our nation and in the way we reacted to that day.
What happened to us is it is unspeakable. It`s unthinkable. But it happened. But the way we reacted to it, to me, is really what this country is all about and the people who make up this country. We lost a lot of good people that day. Good souls, true heroes.
PINSKY: Yes. And well, several people, more than a few people were cast as hue rows that day. John, to you, the responding community, the people who went out there to help also have become a community, have they not? And that`s been sort of an interesting part of this tale. Not all of them felt supported for what they`ve done. Is that true?
FEAL: Yes, sir. Hence why I started the FealGood Foundation in 2005. Since then we`ve been responsible for helping get two bills passed especially the one in December which was $4.2 billion for health care compensation. I think I got too much credit for that.
We also donated $400,000 on 9/11 responders who were sick and dying and have passed away. And we helped thousands get their benefits. There are so many people that are sick and dying from their heroic actions. These men and women were the best of the best of what this country offered 10 years ago. And many were forgotten about.
Whether it was uniform or not uniform, these men and women are now sick and dying. And we`ve lost over 1,020 people since 9/11 to 9/11- related illnesses. And while 2751 innocent lives were lost on 9/11 to senseless violence, sadly I say we are going to outnumber them in the next few years.
PINSKY: Yes. John, even though there`s been a lot of consequence from having been a first responder, I would imagine that nobody regrets having done so. Is that accurate?
FEAL: Sir, I would agree with that. You know again, this is the best of the best of what America had to offer. And God forbid if it happened again, you`ll have another great group of Americans, Brazilian-Americans coming forward. But if we could take time out and take 9/11 out of the equation. Like these people on the show today, if everybody believed in a cause and if everybody was passionate about something and everybody had the mind-set of putting others before themselves, sooner or later somebody`s going to put you before them. And that circle of goodness will always outdo evil.
PINSKY: John, I think that`s an appropriate place to stop. Thank you, Michael, John for all your service and sharing your stories with us today.
We`ve got coming up, as people fled the World Trade Center, one woman ran into the two towers. Next we catch up with a New York City policeman who risked her life to save others. Stay with us.
PINSKY: Twenty eight hundred people died at the World Trade Center site on 9/11. As thousands ran down 80, 90, even 100 flights of stairs, dozens and dozens of first responders went up those same stairs. When the smoke cleared, these heroes saved upwards of 25,000 lives. Let me repeat that. 25,000 lives were saved on that morning.
Joining me now is one of those heroes Carol Paukner was 37-year-old New York City police officer at the time. She was a block away when the first plane struck the north tower. Carol ran to the scene. Now, while saving many, she herself became a victim and suffered multiple injuries.
This is now 10 years later. Can you take me through what you`re most vivid memories are of that day?
CAROL PAUKNER, POLICE OFFICER, NYPD TRANSIT: I went in and out of the building and carried quite few people out of the building and evacuated them. And instructed them to go to the downtown hospital and put them in an ambulance as we got them out of the area. I was almost killed by a piece of metal when the second plane hit Tower Two. I was outside of borders bookstore and it flew me into the window out there.
And I was able to pull myself up and run to safety until the debris had cleared. And then I went back in the building pulling more people out that were injured. People that were burned. A man`s shoulder was backwards and he was in shock. He was able to walk. We were able to hook him up with two people who walked him to the hospital. Doctor Drew, I have this photo here. After I crawled out of the tower with this gentleman Richie and a woman who was out there, she was in shock. And you know, "where`s my pocketbook Christine?
I was trapped in Tower Two when it collapsed. But I had no idea that the building was actually collapsed. I was able to hold on to the door frame. And the wind from the implosion brought me mid-air like a cartoon character. I was able to hold on with my left shoulder. There was a man to the right of me. He told me to grab his hand. I pulled myself to him. We happened to survive. There was only a small piece of cement there. Him, and I were able crawled out in the building together. He happened to be another police officer I later found out when we were able to crawl out. We did the best we could. You know, I`m sorry.
PINSKY: Carol you have nothing to apologize for. First of all, thank you for sharing your story. And secondly, thank you for your heroism. Thank you. I don`t want ever want to hear you apologize again. Thank you for all you did.
PAUKNER: Well, we wish we could have done more.
PINSKY: Of course. You did enough. And you did a lot.
Coming up, she was a 26-year-old bride to be. He was a 37-year-old specialist for the Pentagon. The events of September 11th would change the course of their lives forever. Their remarkable stories of triumph after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was not released for 37 years. She`s as beautiful as you. I mean that sincerely.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you get to talk to her that morning?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a matter of fact, I dropped her off at the tower center this morning and she says to me, "Nick, do me a favor. Please pick me up at 3:00. I`m going to sneak out early." And I said, OK.
As I`m ready to pull away she said, "Nick." I said, "What now?" "Nothing" she says "I love you."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. DREW PINSKY, HOST: September 11th, 2001, a defining moment in our nation`s history, and for my next two guests, the defining moment of their lives. Rachel Uchitel was a happily engaged 26-year-old woman when the Twin Towers collapsed. Her fiance was instantly killed, and she became the unsuspecting face of a nation in mourning.
David Theall was a public affair specialist for the Pentagon, but when Flight 77 crashed in that building, just 100 feet away from his office, David became, like many, a selfless hero as he risked his own life to save the lives of co-workers. He later became a producer for "LARRY KING LIVE."
Now, Rachel, your photo appeared in the cover of "New York Post" just days after 9/11. Take me through what happened and -- we`re looking at that picture. That was now a day or so later.
Yes. That was about three days later.
PINSKY: Three days later. Take me through what happened from the last time you talked to your boyfriend until we see you on that magazine.
RACHEL UCHITEL, LOST HER FIANCE, ANDY, WHEN PLANE HIT TOWER 2: I was working at Bloomberg News at the time, and Andy worked on the 104th floor of the tower that was the second one hit. So, I spoke to him on the phone because we were covering it for news, of course. And I got him on the phone and I tried to talk to him about what he was seeing. Everything he was talking to me about, though, I was reporting to our control room, and it was being reported by our anchor on the news.
So, you know, we were really -- I was really focused on news, and I didn`t -- I had no idea that Andy would ever be hurt or part of that. I had spoken to Andy. And the second time I spoke to him, he said that he was going to be leaving the building. He sounded a little bit out of breath. And as I went to hang up the phone, there was another explosion.
And I realized when I looked at the monitors around our room, our control room, that there had been, you know, another plane that went in, and I was still holding the phone. So, I knew that Andy was still obviously on his floor. The plane had hit below, well below, where he was working. I could see that. So, I was able to calculate, you know, where he would be, and I figured he would either be running up to get to the roof or possibly going to be figuring a way to get down. And again, nobody knew to even be able to fathom that the building`s falling.
So, I really wasn`t scared for him. Of course, I was anxious, and everybody felt very anxious about the situation, but I never had any idea this would be the last moment that I spoke to him. And about 45 minutes later, I was standing at my desk and I watched the building fall. And at that moment knew that I had just watched my fiance die, and I couldn`t find the chair behind me. And I just sunk down to the floor and sat there.
PINSKY: These stories are just so awful. You and I went down to 9/11 about a year ago -- excuse me. When I went down to Ground Zero about a year ago, and you actually met a man who had lost his wife.
PINSKY: Let`s look at that footage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t know you, but my name is (INAUDIBLE), and I lost my wife and my niece here also. And I`m surprised they don`t know you, those that here. And I was wondering who the heck you were. They said, well, she lost her fiance. I said my God, I lost my wife and my niece here.
UCHITEL: I`m so sorry.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Me too. I`m sorry for you, too.
UCHITEL: Did your wife work there?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. She worked for analogy management on the 93rd floor, Tower One. So, I lost my wife and my niece.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were just talking, and she was just saying how no one can ever really know what that is.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do. That`s why I interrupted. I`m so sorry. I`m sorry.
UCHITEL: Don`t be sorry.
PINSKY: What was it like for you finding somebody who`d been through almost the same experience?
UCHITEL: When you meet somebody that has lost somebody in that same capacity, you know what they`re feeling, and they know what you`re feeling.
PINSKY: And really, nobody else does.
PINSKY: We think we do, but --
UCHITEL: Yes. And it`s hard also to express that to people. And to have him look at me and say, I lost my wife, my beloved wife, and to see the tears, you know, well in his eyes. And, he just wanted to hug me. I will forever have a connection to that man, you know, and know what he went through.
PINSKY: Now, David, you were in the Pentagon. You were on the phone as well joking with somebody that the Pentagon might be the next to be hit.
DAVID THEALL, SURVIVED PENTAGON ATTACK: She had joked with me. Yes. It was a military friend of mine that was (INAUDIBLE) about 10 miles in Pentagon. We knew it what happen in New York, and like Rachel said, the first one we thought was next, and we`re all gathered on the second plane. We knew it was something else. And I was back down to my desk and a friend called, and she jokingly said the Pentagon is probably next.
And it was just timed perfectly that the plane came in about 80 to 100 feet down the hallway. And, you can actually hear the destruction, the explosion coming towards you.
PINSKY: Rolling towards you.
THEALL: It was. And there was just a wall that was beside me that happened to protect me.
PINSKY: A wall collapsed on you?
THEALL: It was.
PINSKY: That`s what prevented the fire ball from hitting you probably.
THEALL: Exactly, it did. It landed on top of me, and the fireball killed people who were in offices yet behind me, but it happened so quickly that I still had the phone in my hand when I was wrapped up with the desk and everything else.
PINSKY: Wow. And so, take me through what happened to you that morning.
THEALL: After that, my immediate concern was for my co-worker, Carl Monkin (ph), who was in another office from mine, and I called his name probably 10 or 12 times, and he didn`t answer me, and I really thought that he was a goner. And, after freeing myself from the rubble, and I likened it to walking across a landfill. There were just copiers and the ceiling and the desks and everything else was just sort of churned up.
It was like walking a landfill where you would actually use things that were hanging from the ceiling, you know, to steady yourself as it going. Carl finally answered me. We found each other in the dark. My concern was for the smoke, because all that smoke which you saw coming out of the Pentagon was down there at the Pentagon, and I knew you can`t live long in that kind of smoke.
PINSKY: Did you think about your own safety or just go into action?
THEALL: You know what? I just went into action. My butt was spring loaded that day. I knew exactly where we had to go. It sounds silly, but you don`t just stand up and say, you know, follow me, good citizens. I knew the way that we had to get out of the building. And nine people followed me, and we helped each other along the way.
PINSKY: Rachel, one last thing with you. You put together a video to get some closure about the loss of Andy. When we were going through all the young men and older men, too, the talent and human resource that was there in his business. And you were just going that one`s dead, that one`s gone, he was great, he was fantastic, he was brilliant, gone, dead, gone, dead. You just get the magnitude of what was lost you got that day.
UCHITEL: Yes. It`s like Billy Joel says only the good die young, it seemed that day. It was almost like they were too good to be true. Every single guy at his firm was gregarious, was amazing.
PINSKY: Andy was the head of the UCLA swim team.
PINSKY: These were brilliant guys. These were analyst --
UCHITEL: Brilliant guys at work, but in family, in, you know, challenges throughout their life, they stood out. And they were heroes. They really were. Something that took me a long time to get over with was understanding that maybe it really was their time. And, that they had to go then, because they were too good to have lived any longer. They really were. And, it was just an honor to have known all of them, really.
PINSKY: Well, the honor is mine to speak to you, guys, today. Rachel, David, thank you so much.
Now, the horror of 9/11, of course, just unprecedented. Even trained journalists had to stay strong in the face of this disaster, and many of them broke down. They reported on the story to give you the facts, but the story affected their lives as well. 10 years later, I`m going to talk to them, and you`re going to hear their stories next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you hope will be?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m showing this photograph around to see if anybody sees him or maybe able to help bring him home in one piece and alive. Those are very (INAUDIBLE) right now. Emotions are really high. I`m very hopeful that he`s going to be OK and come home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OPRAH WINFREY, HOST: You trained to be dispassionate, but not inhuman. Did you feel uncomfortable, uneasy breaking down?
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: No.
WINFREY: It wasn`t a breakdown. It was just showing some emotion.
COHEN: No, not really, because I felt -- I mean, it was a totally unplanned thing.
COHEN: I knew that I wasn`t going to break down to a point where I couldn`t do my job. That would have been a problem.
WINFREY: I would have gone into the ugly cry. When you know you`re trying to reserve yourself. So, you didn`t feel that that you we`re going to --
COHEN: No. I definitely felt sad, obviously, and hearing from these people, but I always felt like I could continue because these people needed me to continue.
PINSKY: In this business, people develop a thick skin and adapt so you can go home at night to your family, and it`s really medicine we have the same thing. But when news affects us, reporters have been taught to keep up a -- I guess, it would be a wall or just sort of a certain kind of front to keep that line drawn in the sand between reporting on the story without becoming deeply emotionally involved in it in the moment.
But on September 11th, very few were able to keep that boundary, to maintain that boundary. During the coverage, reporters and producers became real people. Take a look at this.
COHEN: Talking to these families for two days now, and all of these stories are very much like this. People are just hoping that their relatives are out there somewhere. And they`re begging us to talk about them, to show their pictures hoping that if someone has seen them, that they might be able to identify them.
It`s just an endless sea of people who are looking for their loved ones who are doing anything they can to find some sign.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are trained to be dispassionate, but we are not expected to be inhuman. You did terrific work today. I can only imagine how difficult it has been. Thank you for your efforts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY: 10 years later, they were the reporters, producers, and anchors who helped get you the information you need on that day, but they were also the people who lived and through that experience. Former "Larry King Live" producer, David Theall is back with us. He worked at the Pentagon during 9/11. And you just saw a part of her moving reports from 9/11, CNN senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, joins us now.
Elizabeth, you became the face of the reporters who were what we saw as being real people that day covering the tragedy. You were telling our producer that what struck you about the people was -- the people you were reporting about was their unwavering hope for their loved ones. Tell us about that.
COHEN: I mean, Drew, what really struck me that day and what I still remember 10 years later is the love that those people felt for their family members. They were out there for hours and hours and hours day after day after day showing everyone those pictures and saying have you seen my wife? Have you seen my husband? Have you seen my best friend? They had hope at a time when, unfortunately, we all knew that there really wasn`t any hope.
I remember talking to someone who had just walked the length of Manhattan, had just walked up and down Manhattan thinking I know I`ll see my wife. I know she`s, you know, probably unconscious and wandering around. I know I`ll see her. And I was out there for three days talking to these families constantly with my producer, Mary Ann Falco, who`s still here at CNN. And we -- it was a different kind of reporting. I mean, they were really coming to us for help.
PINSKY: Elizabeth, it`s a hard thing to convey to people at home. I remember, I was there just a few days after -- maybe it was a week after, and the images that stay with me forever are the subway stations with the pictures everywhere. Wherever you went, people were posting pictures of either of encouragement or of hope for potentially finding their family members. Is there a way -- you know what I`m talking about, right? You remember that experience?
COHEN: Oh, of course. I mean --
PINSKY: How do we convey that to people? I don`t have words to describe what that was like.
COHEN: You know, it`s interesting because there had been disasters in the past 10 years, and those posters come out where you see the picture of the person who`s missing and facts about them and what they look like, but that was really -- this was the first time we`d -- that it ever happened. The first time we`d ever seen them. And so, what I remember about that time, Drew, was that I knew deep in my heart that these people were not going to be found.
But, the family members really had hope. And it was a very strange position as a reporter, because as reporters, we`re told to get to the truth. And in this case, I couldn`t really say the truth. I mean, I couldn`t say to these people, you know, really there`s no reason to look, sir. Your wife is no longer with us. You can`t say that. And so, you`re helping them and putting them on television while at the same time knowing that there really was no hope.
PINSKY: Now, since, Elizabeth you made it your mission to help families find loved ones. Listen to this from your appearance on Oprah.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COHEN: We found these families who were just clutching the photos. And when I started looking at those photos, these are the people.
WINFREY: Those are the people.
COHEN: Exactly. It just seemed like the huge thing, a building down, but they were --
WINFREY: It was a news story before, and then, it became these are the people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY: Elizabeth, you said you had a feeling that what you were doing was sort of a bad job as a reporter, but a good job as a human being, right? How did you deal with that as the internal journalist was talking to yourself?
COHEN: Right. I didn`t think I was doing a bad job as a reporter, but it was definitely a time when as a reporter, you sort of step back, and you don`t sort of intervene, because if you were going to intervene, you would say, oh, well, we know all these people are dead, but this was really a time to step back. The word that kept coming into my head while I was on Lexington Avenue in New York City was a conduit.
I just really felt like a conduit for these people to get out there and express what they were feeling. And I think, in many ways, they also part of them knew that they were not going to find their loved ones. And maybe, this was just part of the way that they were grieving, that they were sort of reaching out.
PINSKY: I think you`re right. I think that`s a sort of a natural human impulse to do this. Now, David, you were actually awarded a medal of bravery. You were recognized for what`s specifically called heroism above and beyond the call of duty.
The award citation says, "Without regard for his own live and his own injuries, Mr. Theall stayed in the area to aid others. Mr. Theall climbed over burning rubble in the thickening, billowing smoke to lead a co-worker and six other survivors to safety. He, then, reentered the damaged area under extremely dangerous conditions to search for more survivors. His actions saved lives and a distinguished example of American determination." Nice.
THEALL: It is. I mean, when all of those accolades come, when I hear that I have always said that belongs to my parents. If there`s a redeeming quality to my life, it is my parents. It is the important people in my life.
PINSKY: OK. Good job. We do a lot of blaming of parents. Good job, mom and dad. Well done. But good job, David. It`s one of the things about heroes. They`re always, oh, shucks. It makes me a little angry. It`s like I want to -- I want you to take that. I want you to own that.
THEALL: Listen, in all honesty, I mean, I happened to be at the right place at the right time, and I knew exactly where it is that we needed to go that day. And people lived because of it. Here are the true heroes from September 11th in my opinion. And I mean this honestly.
PINSKY: Go ahead.
THEALL: It`s those people who lost loved ones that day and still chose to get up six months later, a year later, still chose to raise their children. It`s those people who were disfigured. And some of them, their faces were disfigured to where they are unrecognizable to their former selves. And they got up and have continued on with their lives. You now, I didn`t lose anyone that day. So, I had a heck of a day, and then got all the accolades, but the true heroes are those --
PINSKY: OK. I agree with you and I disagree with you. You deserve the accolade.
THEALL: OK, thank you.
PINSKY: And I agree with you about them. And it`s the thing that I keep thinking about the story -- it boggles the human mind to take -- you almost can`t. And if we even try to address these real stories, to sum up the stories, none of us can do it. There are too many. The magnitude is too great. And when we hear them -- every time I revisit 9/11, I think to myself, there`s another amazing story. Another amazing story.
PINSKY: But why haven`t I heard that before?
PINSKY: But there are just thousands and tens of thousands of them.
THEALL: You bet. And when you see them 10 years later, I have seen them as they have progressed here in the last 10 years at various memorials and observance ceremonies and what have you. And I remember seeing them smile. I think it was after the one year anniversary. And when you started seeing some of the survivors smile and some of the people who lost loved ones actually smiling, but I feel the same way you do.
When I go into that Pentagon memorial chapel in which they have all the pictures and the life stories of the 125 who were killed there in the Pentagon, it`s almost overwhelming.
PINSKY: David, you later became a "LARRY KING" producer, and you report (ph) a soldier and worked in the Pentagon. You have produced news. Have you ever come across anything that affected you as bad as this or as much as this?
THEALL: I think the earthquake in Haiti probably is only the thing that really came close. And, you know, as news people, you just -- you grab your bag, you get on the plane, and you start getting to where the story is, and in our case trying to get into Haiti was nearly a day-long process. And so, I was just obsessed with getting into Haiti.
And I don`t think that I really realized what it was that I was stepping into. And the destruction there that I saw and the death that I saw and the dust and the smell just started bringing back a lot of memories from September 11th.
PINSKY: David, thank you.
THEALL: You bet.
PINSKY: Elizabeth, thank you.
Coming up, a tragedy to hope. Did this horrific attack bring out the best in us? Have the heroes of 9/11 helped us discover hero in each of you?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COHEN: We were across the street in the armory. They came to us. They formed a crowd around us at one point when I was on television live.
Hundreds of them all day.
Because they so wanted to get on television. They believed a hundred percent that if they could show their loved one`s face that that person would be found.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY: We`re back. The September 11th anniversary brings back awful memories for some. For others, it reminds us that there is hope. Elizabeth Cohen, how did reporting from the scene change your life?
COHEN: Oh, it really did actually, Drew. And one of the things that I remember the most is that after my three days of being on that street corner where families were gathering to find their missing loved ones, at the end of those three days, it occurred to me that there was no anger. I was speaking, I mean, hundreds of families I`ve spoken to at that point, hundreds of them, and I didn`t hear anger. What I heard was love. And that has really stuck with me.
PINSKY: Thank you, Elizabeth. I don`t know. I was angry that day. I really was. Of course, I didn`t lose anybody, and I suppose that`s the love for that person is what prevails. Final thoughts?
THEALL: I was there at a time and I witnessed a time when in this country, it didn`t matter if you were a red state or blue state. It didn`t matter if you were born again or not. It didn`t matter if you were black or white, gay or straight. It didn`t matter. I saw humans rushing into flames to help other humans. And we didn`t stop and ask, you know, to what political party you belong to.
And I think, now, especially with the news coverage as things get a little crazier and crazier in Washington, I am reminded and I`m always reminded in the back of my head that as a country and as a group of people, we`re pretty good.
PINSKY: We`re OK.
THEALL: Yes. We really are. And that has stuck with me for 10 years.
PINSKY: That to me -- again, I was in New York a week after it happened, and that togetherness, that feeling of unity that we can have.
THEALL: I actually consider it -- it was a tragic day, but I actually consider it a blessing for my life that I happened to be there to witness that.
PINSKY: Thank you, David. Thank you, Elizabeth.
As pertain to that topic that David brings up here, we all did learn an important lesson on 9/11. Take a literally that old command, don`t just stand there, do something. The heroes on 9/11 did something. They did everything. They put everything on the line. And they taught us to be more than bystanders. Police, firefighters, doctors, and ordinary citizens rushed to help. And they kept helping through hellish days and sleepless nights.
They donated money, blood, and time. The heroes on flight 93 brought down a plane before it reached its target. They died to save countless lives. They became models for all of us to follow. America learned the lesson. Just last month, this occurred to me today, that just last month, bystanders became lifesavers when a stage collapsed at the Indiana State Fair. You remember this?
We all watched that storm blow down that stage, and we watched as people rushed in and did something. That`s why I believe we have changed since 9/11. Certainly in crisis, we pull together. We have internalized what we believe to be heroic. We saw heroism on that day. We think it`s a good thing, and we want to be that. Be our best as often as we can. See you next time.