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Five Years Later

As I type these words, the emotions and images of that day arise in me again... sitting at this desk, just after 9:00 a.m., watching the plane fly into the second tower on the small TV over my left shoulder... the confusion of a stunned newsroom trying to organize itself to cover this gripping story. Then the nauseous feeling as I saw distant smoke rising from behind the building across the street. Was it the Washington monument? It turned out to be the Pentagon burning.

Then word came of a plane crashing in Pennsylvania. That was where I ended up that day... gazing at a smoking hole in a peaceful field, where a plane had been driven into the ground and pulverized as courageous passengers struggled with the terrorists for control of the United's Flight 93.

On this day five years ago, thousands of first responders — firemen, policemen, rescue personal and volunteers — ended up at Ground Zero in New York. As NPR's Renee Montagne pointed out on Morning Edition this morning, much of the media's fifth anniversary coverage is rightly focused on their heroism.

Scores of first responders died as the buildings collapsed. Many others are suffering physically and emotionally from the trauma they experienced during rescue efforts. Tonight on All Things Considered, my colleague Joe Shapiro looks at the health effects on first responders. As we all remember, officials initially suggested the smoke and dust those first responders inhaled at Ground Zero was benign. As it turns out, many now have very serious breathing problems caused by the dust they inhaled for weeks, as they worked to rescue survivors and recover remains from the rubble of the Twin Towers.

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