The world stopped for America 11 years ago tomorrow. We all remember where we were when the first plane sailed into one of the Twin Towers. I remember clearly because I was asked by my publisher several days later to write a book about the heroes of that event. I recall the discussion surrounding the 50 vignettes I wrote. Many of those hesitated to call themselves heroes, passing off their incredible acts of heroism to nothing more than what anyone else would do. Some of them couldn’t call themselves heroes, because they had died. Others couldn’t speak at all–they were the rescue dogs who were brought in to find remains.
This week, I will highlight one person from that book each day to honor of the thousands who lost their lives, and the countless others who dedicated theirs to helping in any way they could.
Anthony Bai signed up for military duty when the U.S. entered World War II and afterward spent most of his life helping wounding veterans like himself. Loving the life he created, he saved his money so he could bring his sister here, who’d been left behind in war-torn Poland. After his wife died, his family worried about his health since he had undergone triple bypass surgery and suffered from debilitating diabetes. But as the survivor he was, he signed up for computer classes, bought a condo and jumped back into his life.
When the towers were hit, like many veterans, Bai was spurred to action. He set out of the Pentagon to offer his help in finding bodies, removing debris, whatever was needed. He was 84 years old, and was politely turned away. He was surprised that other believed him to be old and frail. Undaunted, he went to the Salvation Army, an organization he knew would welcome a old-time veteran like himself, and went to work sorting and repackaging medical supplies, anything to help with the effort. At the end of the day, he left feeling fulfilled but exhausted. He signed up for the next day and left to have dinner with one of his children. He told her he would call when he arrived home.
That call never came. Anthony died of a heart attack that night. But as his family believes, the old soldier had spent his last day and last bit of his energy serving his country.