Here and Now with Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Friday, September 9, 2011

A Reluctant 9/11 Hero Looks Back

By: Alex Ashlock

On Sept. 11, Michael Benfante became a reluctant hero. He and a co-worker carried a woman in a wheelchair down 68 floors of the north tower of the World Trade Center to safety.

Right after he put her in an ambulance, a camerman asked him what he had seen, his response was captured in this CBS video:

Minutes later, the tower fell and Michael dove under a truck as the dust cloud chased him down.

In the aftermath of 9/11, he became a media darling, appearing on a number of shows, including Oprah. He got married almost a year to the day after the attacks, and had a son, but the storybook ending wasn’t the whole story.

Author Michael Benfante. (Courtesy of Michael Benfante)

Author Michael Benfante. (Courtesy of Michael Benfante)

“Why did I survive? What am I supposed to do now? It made for a lot of confusion,” he told Here & Now‘s Robin Young. “It was hard to focus my thoughts on the good that occurred that day.”

It was the good that occurred that day that everyone wanted to hear, but the darker images began to overshadow everything else in Michael’s mind.

“I saw bodies falling,” he said. “The thought of a person being brought to that point, it just kills me, it angers me.”

And then there were the firefighters he passed on the way down all those floors.

“They were going up as everyone was going down and all they kept saying everything’s going to be ok, and you could tell what their lips were saying their eyes weren’t telling the same story. But to me you can’t call me a hero, not when you think of them.”

Putting it all down on paper, the good and the bad, has helped Michael Benfante recover from the depression and drinking that have dogged him since 9/11.

“You know I try to think of my family and my son,” he says today. “And think about how I’m doing them a disservice by not picking myself up and doing the right thing. What better way to memorialize those firemen, what better way to honor them to go out and be a decent person. It doesn’t take much to be considerate of others, putting them first sometimes.”

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.

Experts share a range of perspectives on how to combat the Islamic State militant group, and the role the U.S. should play.

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

November 24 7 Comments

Ferguson: One Year Later

City council member Wesley Bell looks back on the past year since protests and violence swept the Missouri city.

November 24 3 Comments

Sam Sifton’s Tips For A Happy, Delicious Thanksgiving For All

The New York Times' food editor talks about his favorite dishes and how to accommodate everyone without going crazy.

November 23 3 Comments

James Taylor Is ‘Gobsmacked’ By Medal Of Freedom Honor

The five-time Grammy winner looks back on his career, ahead of receiving the country's highest civilian honor.

November 23 29 Comments

How To Travel While Black During Jim Crow

A postal worker created a guide for black travelers that was published almost every year from 1936 to 1966.