This story has taken me a bit more time to write than usual, as the subject deserves the effort.
While awaiting a flight on 9/11, I struck up a conversation with a First Lieutenant, a fellow Army Reservist. When he learned that I was retired from law enforcement, the LT mentioned that his civilian job was paramedic with the NYFD. When I asked the inevitable question, "Were you there that day?", a troubled look crossed the LT's face as he seemed to consider how to answer. He then started speaking quietly, describing how he had indeed been there that morning, treating and helping to evacuate people from the South Tower. The LT paused for a minute, then told me how screwed up things had gotten for the first responders. He talked about how he and his fellow medics had been ordered to abandon the non-ambulatory patients, and evacuate the building immediately, as it was about to collapse. The LT said that he had protested, but in the end followed orders, and escaped minutes before the South Tower came down.
I sat there quietly, absorbing how incredibly painful this had been for this guy and his partners.
The LT bowed his head, and said he's carried the guilt with him ever since. He enlisted in the Army Reserve shortly afterward, and since 2001 has volunteered for and served 3 combat tours in Iraq, and one tour in Afghanistan, trying to make up for what happened on that awful day eight years ago. Just then, the LT's boss walked up and pulled him away, and I had to leave without saying goodbye. What I didn't get a chance to say to this hero was this..."You've paid any debt you feel you owe four times over...and you have nothing to be ashamed of."
I think anyone who understands true courage and selfless service would agree.