Our heroes

Whether it was by saving lives or simply living life to its fullest, gay men and lesbians were among the thousands of Americans who, on September 11, showed humanity’s true spirit

BY Mubarak Dahir

October 08 2001 11:00 PM ET

Normally Chris
Young wouldn’t have been anywhere near the World
Trade Center. But on the morning of Tuesday, September
11, the 33-year-old actor was temping for the Marsh
insurance firm and had volunteered to shuttle reports
from the company’s midtown office to the 99th floor
of 1 World Trade Center. He delivered the reports by
8:40 a.m. and then got back in the elevator for what
would turn out to be the longest and scariest ride of
his life.

Thousands of feet
below, 38-year-old attorney David Draigh was just
getting out of a taxi. His metered receipt recorded the time
as 8:39 a.m. He then walked through the north
tower’s revolving door and headed toward the
elevators to go up to his 54th-floor office. Before he could
get there, the building shook around him as American
Airlines Flight 11 hammered into it. “Next
thing I knew, a fireball of debris was headed right at
me” says Draigh, who dived for shelter behind a steel
planter. As black smoke mushroomed through the lobby,
he choked for air and then jumped through the
lobby’s blown-out windows. Once outside, he says,
“I thought about my mother and my boyfriend,
John. I was just glad to be alive.”

Directly across
the street, Artie Van Why felt a tremor in his 23rd-floor
office and ran out of the building. When he got outside, the
city was unrecognizable. “It was like a war
zone,” he says. Insulation, plaster, soot, and
paper were everywhere. Van Why looked up to where the first
plane had torpedoed the north tower of the World Trade
Center and stared in disbelief. Then a disturbing
realization hit him. “It wasn’t debris
dropping from the buildings,” he says in a whisper.
“It was bodies.”

Close by at
Bellevue Hospital, “Ed,” a 23-year-old gay
medical student who asked that his real name not be
used, geared up to help with the anticipated deluge of
casualties. He waited for hours. “There were no
patients,” he says, “because everyone was
dead.”

Now stuck by
himself for about an hour inside the 1 World Trade Center
elevator, Chris Young started to think he wasn’t
going to make it out alive. By this time he’d
felt two violent explosions. Never imagining that they
came from airplanes pounding into the buildings, he figured
they must have been bombs. He ripped off his shirt and
covered his mouth so he could breathe; dust was
creeping into the elevator. He tried to calm himself
by reciting a monologue from Man of La Mancha, a part
he’d recently performed. But as the air thickened and
his emergency calls went unanswered, Young felt more
and more trapped.

In Washington,
D.C., Bill Craven was about to feel trapped too. Still in
workout clothes from an early-morning session at the gym,
where he’d seen the awful images from New York
on TV, Craven, 42, hopped into his car and rushed to
work. Traffic was crawling, though, and at 9:40 a.m. he
found himself stalled in front of the Pentagon. The
odd noise of a commercial aircraft overhead caught his
attention. “It was flying way, way too low,”
he says. “Then it came down like a kite doing a
nosedive.” The plane plowed into the side of
the Pentagon, producing a column of black smoke topped
by brilliant orange flames. Oh, my God, I’m dead!
Craven thought as chunks of the fortresslike edifice
flew his way. He scrambled to lie flat on his stomach
in the car while shards of debris rained from the
skies.

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