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How 9/11 Changed Us: Person by Person, Part 2

3:31 PM, Sep 8, 2011   |    comments
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By Rick Hampson and Martha T. Moore, USA TODAY

The terrorist attack on America 10 years ago is one of the few events in U.S. history big enough to claim its date as its name. But Sept. 11, 2001, did not change the nation as abruptly as Dec. 7, 1941, or as dramatically as July 4, 1776. This time, there was no declaration of war or independence, just a warning that if we altered our ways, the terrorists would have won.

And so we entered a new era slowly, incrementally. Day by day. Person by person.

A decade later, we can see the changes in our nation by looking at the changes in our people - some who were close to the cataclysm, some far from it.

What follows are the stories of 20 such Americans. They suggest 9/11 was like a rock thrown in a pond, its impact rippling out until all the water is roiled.

Told as a series of snapshots in time, these 20 stories form a pointillist narrative of how America got from then to now, through invasion and investigation, reconstruction, rehabilitation and revival, tightening security at home and constant warfare abroad.

In their tales, we hear an echo of our own concerns about the next terrorist attack, the struggle between liberty and security, the pat-down at the gate.

When the stories begin on 9/11, two of the subjects are still in high school. Another, in his sixth decade, is carried dead from the World Trade Center. In the years that follow, we come to understand a bit of the orphan's grief, the warrior's courage, the priest's faith, the convert's curiosity, the zealot's recklessness.

We go on a widow's first date and share a bereft couple's surprise that, against all odds, they have something to bury of a lost son.

We learn what motivated the first American to be awarded the Medal of Honor in the Afghanistan War, how a fireman who survived Ground Zero enlisted to fight in Iraq and what happened once he got there.

A daughter, in losing her mother, discovers her true calling. One mother fights to clear her son's name; another discovers that hers was the mysterious "man in the red bandanna" who led fellow office workers to safety at the Trade Center.

The ripples of 9/11 spread far from where the four hijacked planes crashed in New York City and Arlington, Va., and near Shanksville, Pa. They affect the post of poet laureate of the state of New Jersey; the right of a public worker to burn a sacred book; and possibly even the movement to legalize gay marriage.

A photo of a spontaneous hug helps decide the 2004 presidential election. A former captive of Muslim terrorists in a distant land lives to see most of her captors destroyed - and to help some of those who survived.

In such a decade, plans often come to naught. A patriotic teenager who wants to learn more about his nation's attackers ends up accepting their religion. A young woman, moved by 9/11 to enlist in the Army and discover herself, suffers debilitating wounds that make her wonder who she really is.

A Pentagon worker looking forward to an active retirement is so seriously burned that she can neither climb stairs nor lift her 12-pound bowling ball.

This is what it was like in the decade after Sept. 11, the date claimed by catastrophe, the door from then to now.

Ashley Faulkner: A famous hug, fleeting fame

The Mason, Ohio, girl whose mother was killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11 comes to national attention when she's hugged by President Bush at a rally in 2004. Told by a neighbor how Ashley lost her mother, Bush stops and pulls her to his chest - a scene her father captures with his camera. The image will have political ramifications for Bush and personal ones for Ashley.

By Rick Hampson, USA TODAY

9.11.2001: Ashley Faulkner, 13, of Mason, Ohio, loses her mother, Wendy, an Aon Corp. vice president attending a one-day meeting at the World Trade Center. She's consoled by her father, Lynn, and older sister, Loren.

11.7.2001: Lynn Faulkner tries to forget his loss while watching Ashley play soccer. But a second folding chair is stored back in the car, reminding him of Wendy. Ashley's Milford Barracudas tie the Wyoming Hurricanes, 1-1, in what Lynn calls a "terrifically played game." But, he tells TheCincinnati Enquirer, "I was painfully aware it's just me sitting there."

5.6.2004: Ashley and her father attend a campaign appearance by Bush at the Golden Lamb Inn in Lebanon, Ohio. Bush is working the rope line when a neighbor of the Faulkners calls out, "This girl lost her mom in the World Trade Center!" Bush stops, turns back and hugs Ashley, pulling her head to his chest as Lynn snaps a photo. "The way he was holding me, with my head against his chest, it felt like he was trying to protect me," Ashley tells the Enquirer. "I thought, 'Here is the most powerful guy in the world, and he wants to make sure I'm safe.' I definitely had a couple of tears in my eyes, which is pretty unusual for me." The photo spreads across the media.

7.29.2004: A film crew from the Bush campaign is in Mason to make a political ad featuring Ashley, based on the photograph of her being hugged by Bush. Lynn worries about politicizing his daughter's life. But Wendy was a Bush fan who in 2000 had attended a rally with Ashley. And the moment continues to help Ashley emotionally, Lynn says: She seemed to feel safer when she met Bush than anytime since her mother was killed.

10.19.2004: Bush supporters unveil a 60-second campaign commercial featuring Ashley that will become the year's most expensive TV ad, running on cable stations and in nine battleground states at a cost of $14.2million. The Faulkner family, including Lynn and Loren, agreed to be in the ad, which was shot at their Mason home in late July. In the ad, Ashley says of Bush: "He's the most powerful man in the world, and all he wants to do is make sure I'm safe, that I'm OK."

11.05.2004: Salon.com calls the spot, titled Ashley's Story, "the TV ad that put Bush over the top" in Tuesday's presidential election. Salon's Eric Boehlert writes that "in a campaign known for its negative tone - often fueled by Bush's nasty, deceptive attack TV ads - the commercial, with its heartfelt 9/11 connection, turned out to be an exception: a memorable, motivating, feel-good ad." One exit poll found that the ad was one of three that voters most remembered. Another found that 68% of voters remembered the ad, second only to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads.

1.18.2005: Ashley leaves for Washington to attend the inauguration. The 16-year-old will attend the swearing-in and the parade and will greet guests at a ball for Ohio residents. "She thinks it's kind of neat," her father says.

8.24.2005: The news website Cincinnati.Com records a record 1.8 million page views in one day, stemming from interest in the forced resignation of University of Cincinnati men's basketball coach Bob Huggins. The site's previous high was 1.6 million on May 6, 2004, for the photo of President Bush hugging Ashley.

7.22.2006: Ashley turns 18, old enough to start work as a White House intern in the Office of Presidential Correspondence. She spends some of her time answering calls from people who want to talk to the president.

9.12.2008: Ashley, 20, says her time in the public eye is over. The DePauw University senior says she wants her privacy back. In making the 2004 ad for Bush, she tells The Cincinnati Enquirer, "I went outside my comfort zone because I thought it was important. I thought I could make a difference in the election, and I couldn't vote yet." She has decided not to go to a John McCain rally this week at the same place where she met Bush. This year, she says, "I'll just vote" - for McCain.

4.9.2011: Ashley hangs a copy of the famous photo of her being hugged by Bush in her apartment at Kent State University, where she's pursuing graduate degrees in business and library science. Asked by USA TODAY about the work of the family's charitable foundation, created in memory of Ashley's mother, Wendy, Lynn says Ashley and her sister prefer "no further mention or coverage of their personal or charitable activities relating to or resulting from their mother's murder." Ashley, he says, is "a private person."

Derek Fenton: The right to burn

As the ninth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, powerful emotions are aroused by a plan to build an Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero, and by a Florida preacher's threat to burn a Quran. Then, on Sept. 11, a public employee lights a match, raising questions of religious freedom and freedom of speech.

By Rick Hampson, USA TODAY

9.11.2010: A man at a protest against a planned Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero rips pages out of a Quran and lights them on fire. "If they can burn American flags," the man shouts, "I can burn the Quran," witnesses tell the New York Daily News. Police escort the man away but don't arrest him, and he boards a subway train to New Jersey. He won't identify himself but tells The New York Post: "People have the right to build that mosque. They own that property. I wanted to show that I have the right to free speech. Rights are a two-way street." Proponents and opponents of the "Ground Zero mosque" condemn his actions.

9.12.2010: A photo of the man burning pages of the Quran appears in the Daily News. Some readers recognize Derek Fenton of Bloomingdale, N.J. Fenton, 39, is an employee of New Jersey Transit, a state agency. He has worked for the agency for 11 years as a train conductor and coordinator. Earlier, Terry Jones, leader of a small Christian congregation in Florida, had canceled his own plans to burn copies of Islam's holy book.

9.13.2010: Fenton, who was off-duty when he burned pages from the Quran, is fired. He is told his public actions "violated NJ Transit's code of ethics" and his "trust as a state employee." NJ Transit's code says employees may participate in "political activities" as long as they're not explicitly prohibited by the law or agency rules, and they don't conflict with official duties.

9.15.2010: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie backs the firing of Fenton, according to his spokesman. Meanwhile, supporters create a "Help Derek Fenton" Facebook page to find a new job for the father of two.

11.5.2010: The American Civil Liberties Union files suit on behalf of Fenton to get his job back. The lawsuit claims Fenton's constitutional right to free expression was violated and seeks his reinstatement plus monetary damages.

11.8.2010: In an editorial, the conservative New York Post applauds the ACLU for taking Fenton's case. The Post, generally no admirer of the civil liberties group, says it's "doing what the ACLU does best - defending free-speech rights." It adds that the ACLU "rightly notes - as did we at the time - that no one would have raised an eyebrow had Fenton burned an American flag instead of a Koran."

2.10.2011: Christie and several of his top aides were directly informed of Fenton's firing, according to information that emerges at a hearing in Fenton's lawsuit. Lawyers for NJ Transit provide a list of officials who were told of the decision to discharge Fenton.

Deborah Jacobs of the ACLU says she's surprised that, given the state's fiscal and economic woes, the governor was involved: "You would think that New Jersey had better things to do with taxpayer dollars than defend this wrongheaded termination and violation of free speech." Christie has been mentioned as a possible Republican candidate for president.

2.15.2011: Christie, in his first public comments on the firing of Fenton, says he's not worried about the free-speech issue involved. "I knew he was going to be fired, and I had no problem with it," Christie tells reporters. "And I still don't have a problem with it. ... That kind of intolerance is something I think is unacceptable. You've got to make decisions in this job. I made one." But he says he did not ask that Fenton be fired.

4.21.2011: Fenton will get his job back and receive $25,000 for pain and suffering when he does. In addition to being able to resume his $86,110-a-year job, Fenton will receive back pay equal to $331.20 for every day since his firing on Sept. 13. The state will pay $25,000 in legal fees to the ACLU.

In a statement, Fenton says, "Our government cannot pick and choose whose free-speech rights are protected." The Council on American-Islamic Relations agrees, says spokesman Ibrahim Hooper: "Whatever he did, however reprehensible, should not impact on his employment."

The Hamdani family

Salman Hamdani was born in Pakistan and moved to America with his family in 1980, when he was 1 year old. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, he leaves home for his job in Manhattan. When he vanishes, he becomes the subject of a furious search by his family and slurs by anonymous accusers. His mother, Talat, feels victimized by fellow Muslims who killed Salman and by fellow Americans who doubt a Muslim died a hero. As the decade ends, Talat again sees anti-Muslim feelings aroused.

By Rick Hampson, USA TODAY

9.11.2001: Salman Hamdani, 23, leaves his family's home in Queens, heading to his job as a lab tech at Rockefeller University on Manhattan's Upper East Side. He has a Quran in his backpack. From the elevated subway tracks, he must see the smoking World Trade Center towers. He's an emergency medical technician and has been in the NYPD's police cadet program, a sort of ROTC for kids who want to go into law enforcement. He can go to work, or he can head downtown and try to use his credentials to get to the site and try to help.

10.11.2001: Hamdani's parents board a flight to Mecca where they will pray for the return of their son, who has been missing for a month. They have searched frantically for him since he did not come home the night of 9/11. They've visited hospitals, checked the morgue, posted "missing" fliers. (Some were ripped down.) They believe he used his EMT and police cadet credentials to get to the disaster scene. But they just don't know.

10.12.2001: A New York Post headline asks whether Salman Hamdani is "missing - or hiding." The paper reports that investigators have issued "an urgent 'hold and detain' order for the Pakistani native" and asked his relatives about Internet chat rooms he visited and whether he was political. A source tells the Post the line of questioning "tells me they're not looking for this guy at the bottom of the rubble. The thing that bothers me is, if he is up to some tricks, he can walk past anybody (using an ID card)." Meanwhile, someone has distributed fliers with Salman's photo, saying he's wanted for questioning. Police later say they know nothing about the fliers.

3.20.2002: Two police officers arrive at the Hamdani home to tell Salman's parents that his remains have been identified in the wreckage of the Trade Center. Talat Hamdani, his mother, has left the front door unlocked for months and slept on the living room floor, waiting against hope for her son's return.

4.05.2002: Salman Hamdani is praised by Mayor Michael Bloomberg at his funeral at a Manhattan mosque. "We have an example of how one can make the world better," the mayor says. "Salman stood up when most people would have gone in the other direction. He went in and helped people."

7.22.2004: Saleem Hamdani, Salman's father, dies. The medical cause is cancer, but his wife feels he died of a broken heart after losing his son; she regards him as another casualty of 9/11. Saleem Hamdani brought his family to the U.S. from Pakistan in 1980. He owned a convenience store.

11.19.2009: Talat Hamdani supports the Obama administration's decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other accused terrorists in federal court in New York, instead of in a military proceeding at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Hamdani tells CNN: "I trust my justice system, the Constitution, which has been in force in the last 230 years, and I want them tried at home. My son was murdered here, and I want to see them go to trial here, and I want to attend each and every single day."

5.26.2010: Talat defends plans for an Islamic center and mosque proposed near Ground Zero. When she gets up before a raucous crowd at a Lower Manhattan community planning board hearing, she's so nervous that she feels as if she's shaking. But she speaks up: "The mosque at Ground Zero is essential to bring healing to our divided nation. We have to rise above this. We are not at war with the Islam world." She says she forced herself to speak out in memory of her son.

8.19.2010: Talat says anti-Muslim bias explains much of the opposition to an Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero. Appearing on CNN, she says Muslims have been assigned "collective guilt" for the attacks, even though they were among its victims: "Since 9/11, the Muslims are being scapegoated ... and we are as much the citizens of this country as any other people." She says she supports the mosque because it's a test of tolerance and because its proponents have a constitutional right to build it.

3.10.2011: Talat attends the House Homeland Security Committee hearings in Washington on "Radicalization in the American Muslim Community." The hearings were called by U.S. Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., like Hamdani a Long Islander. She is recognized in the audience by Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the only Muslim member of Congress. Ellison opposes the hearings, which he says are "contrary to the best American values." He says the nation needs "increased understanding and engagement with the Muslim community in order to keep America safe."

Luticia Hook: Fighting her way back

"Tick" Hook thought she worked in the world's safest building - until the attack on the Pentagon destroyedher office, killed her friends and pushed her into a confrontation with God and the limitations of disability.

By Martha T. Moore, USA TODAY

9.11.2001: Luticia "Tick" Hook, 53, is at work at the Pentagon's Army Information Management Support Center. She has worked there since 1973, and she plans to retire on Dec. 31, 2002. She considers the Pentagon the safest place in the world. Just before 9 a.m., her husband calls to tell her a plane has hit the World Trade Center. Hook and four co-workers watch on TV as a second plane hits the south tower. She realizes things at the Pentagon are going to get very, very busy and decides to run quickly to the bank. She wants to open an account for her bowling league; she has just become treasurer. "Where are you going?" a manager, Lt. Col. Dean Mattson, asks her. "To a meeting," she snaps, and hurries out the back way. To go the front way would mean running into too many people who want to chat. It's a decision that saves her life. She is in a hallway when American Airlines Flight 77 smashes into the Pentagon. Tick finds herself in a burning passageway, slipping in water from the sprinklers. The new suit she is wearing is wet, and she is on fire. She is alternately cursing and calling on God to help her.

10.19.2001: Tick emerges from a fog of painkillers and is able to talk to her husband, Anthony, who has been with her daily at the Washington Hospital Center's burn unit. Her arms, legs and left side are badly burned. A big piece of flesh is missing from her left hip. She learns that Anthony and their children, Yolanda and Anthony Jr., had to give doctors permission to amputate the irreparably damaged fingers of her left hand. Tick asks whether Mike Selves, the director of her office, has been to see her. Both born in 1947, they were office buddies and exchanged Christmas and birthday gifts. Anthony tells her that Selves and the three others who were in her office on Sept. 11 are dead.

10.21.2001: Tick spends her 54th birthday in the burn unit and her family throws a celebration, bringing potato salad, deviled eggs and fried chicken to a patient lounge at the hospital. But Tick is in too much pain to stay at the party. Her pain is so great, she decides to stop eating entirely. Her family bribes her: If she gains weight, they will bring her adored grandson, Adonis, 10, to visit. It works.

12.18.2001: After more than three months in the burn unit, where she has struggled to learn to walk again despite her badly burned legs, Tick returns to her brick row house in Washington, D.C. She is so different that her dog, an Akita named Marco, growls at her. Being back in her own kitchen for the first time since September makes her cry. She can still barely climb stairs, but she refuses to consider altering the house to put a bedroom on the ground floor.

2.13.2002: The Rotary Club of Washington, D.C., divides $40,000 among Tick and the families of six local residents killed in the terrorist attacks. Tick's daughter, Yolanda, uses the gift to pay off Tick's credit card debt and then cuts up all her cards. "Who gave you the right to do that?" Tick demands. "I gave myself the right," Yolanda says. It was the fourth time Tick had gotten deep into credit card debt, and she vows it will never happen again. "God showed me the way, and I thank him every single day for doing it," Tick says.

4.7.2002: For the first time, Tick is able to return to church, the Life Changing Church in Temple Hills, Md. When she comes in, accompanied by her family, the congregation stands and applauds. "You got family, you love them, you tell that family that," she tells everyone. "Because you could be here, and the next second, you're gone."

9.11.2002: At the anniversary remembrance at the Pentagon, a young Army sergeant approaches Tick and tells her that on the day of the terrorist attack, he helped carry her stretcher to the ambulance. She feels her legs turn to rubber. "Would you mind sitting down with me and letting me know exactly what happened?" she asks. He explains that the stretcher went through a tunnel under the highway because helicopter evacuation had been halted over fears of another incoming plane. This clears up the mystery of why Tick thought she had been injured while she was in a tunnel. "You don't know how it is really helping me," she tells him.

9.6.2003: Tick tries to go back to bowling. She can't lift her 12-pound ball, so she switches to an 8-pounder, which she regards as a defeat. She is so exhausted after bowling that she can't get out of bed to go to church the next morning. She gives it up.

10.30.2004: More than 125 people gather for a "Celebration of Life" party that Tick throws to say "thank-you!" and "I'm happy to be alive!" Over seafood creole and roast beef, her family, friends and co-workers alternately praise and tease her about her legendary attitude, including the sign over her desk in the Pentagon that read, "I only have one nerve left, and you just got on it."

March 2006: Tick undergoes her 15th surgery, to relieve intense pain in what remains of her left hand. Her doctor, Marion Jordan, also inserts a wedge between her palm and the stub of her thumb, so she can now pick up papers and small items. Tick hates taking drugs, but has too much pain to stop. "That's telling us you may have to be on this medicine for the rest of your life," her pain doctor, Lee Ann Rhodes, says. "It may be telling you, but it's not telling me that," Tick retorts.

9.8.2007: After a lot of prodding from her family, Tick tries bowling again. With her friend Daryl, she joins the New Macedonia Church Bowling League. She's pleased to find she can fit into her old bowling shoes and lift her 12-pound ball. Her team takes first place, and she's pleased with that, too.

10.30.2007: Tick begins volunteering at the burn unit of Washington Hospital Center as a peer counselor in a program run by the Phoenix Society, a group for burn survivors. Before she gets out of her car, in the hospital parking lot, she prays. "God, be with me and give me the correct words to say for whatever person I have to visit," she asks.

10.18.2008: Tick and Anthony buy a one-story brick rambler in Maryland. Tick's weakened and scarred legs just can't manage the stairs in their house in Washington, D.C., but she has resisted the change. She already has said goodbye to her red Chevy Cavalier, because it is too low for her to get in and out. "They used to call me the Red Dynamite Grandma. I had to give up that. I had to give up the use of a left hand. The only thing that I had to hold on to was my house."

1.1.2009: Tick and Anthony host their extended families for New Year's Day dinner. Before 9/11, it had been an annual event. She serves ribs, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, and black-eyed peas, the traditional New Year's good-luck food. Tick is happy to be able to host again - but she knows that between her diminished strength and her inability to let others help, she won't be able to have it every year. To every offer of, "I got this," she replies, "No, I want to do it myself."

9.16.2009: On Mike Selves' birthday, she visits for the first time a chapel that has been built in the Pentagon in the area that was destroyed by the 9/11 attack. She visits a conference room where her old office had been. Suddenly the fire alarm goes off. Loudspeakers blare, "This is a test." But it is too much for Tick. "Got to go!" she says, and hurries out of the building as fast as she can.

5.7.2011: Tick goes to pick up Adonis, now 20, at George Mason University for the weekend. When she was in the hospital, he recorded a tape for her, praying for her and asking her to please do what the nurses told her to. Now, she's unhappy he didn't call when the news of Osama bin Laden's killing broke. He says he wanted to see her face when they discussed it. For perhaps the second time in his life, Tick lets her grandson see her cry. "Sometimes it's like you're on fire, and he just brings the water to put it out."

7.5.2011: "I hope and I pray that the old Tick never comes back, not 100%. I'm a better person. When I was in that (Pentagon) hallway trying to get out, falling, I would cuss and then I would ask God to bless me, ask him again and curse more. I never believed people when they said that God came and talked to them. But, take it from me, it's true. The first time I realized that he talks to me was in that hallway. He told me, 'You are not ready for me. If I take you now you would not come to heaven. Before I save you, I'm going to cleanse your mouth. You've got a filthy mouth.' As of this day, July 5, 2011, I have not said a curse word since 9/11/01. Almost 10 years. That's a blessing and a half for me."

The Rev. Mychal Judge: Victim 0001

A photographer documents firemen carrying the Rev. Mychal Judge's body from Ground Zero on 9/11, producing an image that some will call an American Pietà. In death, Judge's legend grows, new facets of his life emerge, and some call him a saint.

By Rick Hampson, USA TODAY

9.11.2001: The Rev. Mychal Judge, a Franciscan priest and New York Fire Department chaplain, rushes to the World Trade Center, where he dies amid falling debris after administrating last rites to a fallen firefighter. He's listed as Victim 0001, the first recorded fatality in the attacks. A photographer snaps a shot of ash-covered firemen carrying the priest's body from the wreckage, producing what will prove to be one of the tragedy's most enduring images.

9.15.2001: Judge's funeral is held at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi , across the street from a firehouse that lost seven firefighters. Mayor Rudy Giuliani calls Judge a saint. The eulogist, the Rev. Michael Duffy, says Judge used to tell him to ask him what he needed. When Duffy did, he'd reply, "Absolutely nothing. ... I am the happiest man on the face of the Earth."

11.12.2001:New York magazine reports that Judge was gay, although apparently - as a Roman Catholic priest - celibate. New York Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen says, "I actually knew about his homosexuality when I was in the Uniformed Firefighters Association. I kept the secret, but then he told me when I became commissioner five years ago. He and I often laughed about it, because we knew how difficult it would have been for the other firefighters to accept it as easily as I had. I just thought he was a phenomenal, warm, sincere man, and the fact that he was gay just had nothing to do with anything."

3.16.2002: Judge is grand marshal of the Chicago St. Patrick's Day Parade, the first time the honor has been bestowed posthumously. When the lead float honoring Judge arrives at the reviewing stand, President Bush and Mayor Richard Daley stand at attention as a bagpipe band plays Amazing Grace. The crowd then chants, "USA, USA!"

4.15.2002: Burt Kearns, a former tabloid TV producer for A Current Affair and Hard Copy, created a website to advocate for the canonization of Judge. "He died a martyr," Kearns says. "Everyone I talk to thinks he's a saint."

4.26.2002: Speaking at St. Bonaventure University in southwestern New York, a leader of the Franciscan religious community criticizes the "rush to canonize" Judge. The Rev. John Felice, who accepts a medal awarded to Judge, says: "There is a rush to canonize Mychal these days, and I think it is a mistake. In making saints out of people, we often shove them away from our experience and place them on a pedestal. He was a very human, flawed, complex person, just like the rest of us. His real legacy is to teach us that such is the stuff of greatness."

6.26.2002: President Bush signs The Mychal Judge Act, marking the first time the federal government has extended equal benefits for same-sex couples. It allows domestic partners of fire and police force members, including chaplains, who are killed in the line of duty to collect their federal death benefit.

2.20.2003: The father of an autistic child says the boy's condition improved after his parents prayed to Judge. Scott Brown says his 4-year-old son, Matthew, did not speak well, wouldn't respond to certain noises and could hardly look people in the eye. After the family prayed to Judge that God loosen Matt's tongue, "the positive outcome ... was almost instantaneous," says Brown, a Newport, R.I., firefighter. "For someone who was so silent and would never make eye contact with you, he's like a different child. ... I can't help but to say that it is miraculous."

2.24.2003: Critics of a gay-organized St. Patrick's Day parade in Queens object to organizers claiming Judge as one of their own. Pat Hurley, a Queens resident, tells Newsday, "I knew a lot of people that knew Father Mychal Judge and they never saw any inkling of his being gay." Judge was a member of Dignity, an organization of gay Catholics that is not recognized by the church hierarchy.

4.17.2006: The documentary Saint of 9/11, narrated by actor Ian McKellen, premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. The subject is Judge. The film begins with an interview in which Judge said, "You wonder what your last hour of life could be. Will I be doing something for someone, trying to save a life?" Shortly before he was killed, Judge administered the church's last rites to a firefighter. A fellow Franciscan says, "This is how Mychal would have prayed to have the last minutes of his life transpire."

9.2.2008: A new biography of Judge says he did not reveal his homosexual orientation to firefighters because he felt he had to be whom they needed him to be. "The very fact he could inspire them to believe (in Christ) caused him to fear that if he broke that spell (by revealing his sexual orientation) they would feel betrayed and lose their faith," writes author Michael Daly, a friend of Judge's. The book says that in his later years, Judge had a romantic relationship with a male Filipino nurse 30 years his junior. The book also describes Judge's tense relationship with, and disdain for, New York Cardinal John O'Connor.

4.15.2009: New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, in his first homily after assuming office, mentions Judge in the same sentence as two American saints, Elizabeth Ann Seton and Frances Xavier Cabrini. He says that Christ is alive in the church's "consecrated religious women and men," such as Seton, Cabrini and Judge.

5.11.2011: Judge's 78th birthday. His resting place at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Totowa, N.J., has only a simple horizontal marker, but the grave site stands out from the others in the Franciscan order's plot. It's adorned with figurines of fat friars and firemen; rosary beads; flowers real and artificial; and various pins, including one that reads, "Brothers in Faith Shall Do Great Deeds." The plot is near the cemetery gate on Union Avenue. Less than a mile away, at 486 Union, is the apartment where two of the 9/11 hijackers lived. Their visitors included Mohammed Atta, who piloted a jetliner into the north tower, where Judge died.

Michael Murphy: Into the Valley of Death

A Navy commando determined to strike at those responsible for the 9/11 attacks, Lt. Michael Murphygoes to Afghanistan and tracks a Taliban commander. He makes an agonizing decision and dies heroically.He's part of a U.S. effort to push the Taliban from the Korengal Valley near Pakistan. But after establishing several outposts at the cost of more than 40 American lives, the U.S. reconsiders its stand in the "Valley of Death."

By Rick Hampson, USA TODAY

9.11.2001: Ensign Michael Murphy, 25, watches the terror attacks on TV in California, where he is in basic training for the Navy SEALs, an elite special operations corps. Murphy's boyhood friends on Long Island, N.Y., Owen and Jimmie O'Callaghan, are New York City police officers; their uncle Dan is a fire lieutenant. As Murphy watches, his drill instructor barks: "Gentlemen, this changes everything. We're going to war!"

10.18.2001: Murphy completes basic training. Since 9/11, he has learned that the O'Callaghans' Uncle Dan died at the World Trade Center. Murphy figures that as a SEAL he's in a position to go after those responsible for the attacks. By the time he earns his Trident badge in April 2002, Murphy has subtly changed, says fellow SEAL Ben Sauers. He's quieter, more intense, as if he internalized 9/11.

12.26.2003: On home leave, Murphy takes his girlfriend, Heather Duggan, to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. Duggan is sick, but Murphy insists they go. In the middle of the crowd, he drops to one knee, pulls out a ring and asks Duggan to marry him. They set a date: Nov. 19, 2005.

3.16.2005: Murphy is home on Long Island for a week before what he expects to be a dangerous assignment in Iraq. He's not into planning his wedding. He admits his mind is elsewhere; says it has to be.

4.4.2005: Murphy flies to Bahrain with his SEAL unit. He assumes he's bound for Iraq, but is told he's going to Afghanistan. Murphy brings along the red-and-orange patch of the New York Fire Department company of Owen O'Callaghan, who became a fireman after 9/11.

5.8.2005: Murphy e-mails his mother, Maureen, a photo of his unit holding a handmade sign that says "Happy Mother's Day." On his right sleeve, he wears the red-and-orange patch of Owen O'Callaghan's fire company.

6.3.2005: Taliban militia led by Ahmad Shah ambush and kill three Marines in southeastern Afghanistan. The Marines ask the U.S. special operations command to go after Shah.

6.17.2005: In an e-mail to relatives, Murphy says only that he's been busy: "Things are going well, I like it out here and we are doing a lot." In fact, he's about to embark on Operation Red Wing, the mission to find Ahmad Shah. Then U.S. forces plan to drive the Taliban from the Korengal Valley, a 6-mile-long, rocky, thickly wooded refuge near the Pakistani border.

6.25.2005: Shah issues a statement threatening U.S. forces. Meanwhile, Murphy prepares to go track him down; it's to be his last mission on this tour of duty. A fellow SEAL, Marcus Lutrell, figures it's "payback time for the World Trade Center."

6.27.2005: Murphy, Lutrell and two other SEALs are dropped by helicopter at night into rugged terrain in eastern Afghanistan.

6.28.2005: Murphy and the other three SEALs are surrounded by enemy fighters. They flee down a steep hillside, but are pinned down. Murphy, already wounded, risks his life to go into the open amid heavy fire to call for air rescue. But the troop transport helicopter that responds is shot down, killing all 16 men aboard - the biggest single U.S. loss to date in Afghanistan. Back home, Murphy's father, Daniel, doesn't connect the news to his son, who he thinks is in Iraq. He wonders whether Mike knew any of the SEALs who were killed.

7.4.2005: U.S. soldiers find Murphy's body. He had been shot at least seven times. There are bullet holes in his arm, leg, abdomen, back and below his left eye. That night, on Long Island, a naval officer tells Murphy's parents, Dan and Maureen, ending their week-long wait for definitive word.

7.5.2005: Murphy's parents attend the arrival of his body at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Standing on the tarmac, they watch as his flag-draped coffin is lowered from a cargo plane. Maureen imagines Michael, in his dress whites, walking over, putting his arms around them and saying, "I'm home."

7.13.2005: Lt. Michael Murphy is buried at Calverton National Cemetery in New York. He is not interred with the fire company patch he was wearing on his right sleeve when he was killed; that will be cleaned, framed and hung at Owen O'Callaghan's East Harlem firehouse.

11.19.2005: This was to have been the wedding day of Heather Duggan and Michael Murphy. Duggan is at home on Long Island, grieving. Murphy's parents go separately to the cemetery; each leaves something on their son's gravestone.

12.27.2005: Shah says he knew that when the SEAL unit sent to stalk him was pinned down, reinforcements would be sent. He tells NBC News his men were waiting: "When the American Army comes under pressure and they get hit, they will try to help their friends."

6.11.2007: Murphy and his SEALs were accidentally discovered by some Afghan goat herders shortly before they were ambushed, according to the attack's lone survivor. Marcus Lutrell says the shepherds stumbled onto their four-man team, forcing them to make a decision: kill the shepherds to safeguard the mission, or let them go and risk their alerting the enemy. Lutrell says he cast the deciding vote, siding with Murphy that, as civilians, the herders should be let go. On Today, Lutrell says he regrets his vote: "It'd be worth me doing some time in prison if my buddies were still alive."

6.13.2007: Murphy's father says Lutrell's account of a unit vote on what to do with the shepherds does a disservice to his son. Daniel Murphy says his son, as unit leader, "wouldn't put that up for committee. People who knew Michael know that he was decisive." He believes his son consulted his men, but never put the decision to a vote.

10.11.2007: The White House announces that Murphy will receive the first Medal of Honor issued for service in the war in Afghanistan. Eleven days later, President Bush presents the medal to Murphy's parents at the White House.

4.14.2008: Ahmad Shah is killed in a shootout with police in northwestern Pakistan.

4.14.2010: Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez says the U.S. is withdrawing from the Korengal Valley, where, in the past five years, more than 40 U.S. troops have been killed. Dan Murphy supports the decision. He feels Michael's service was part of a larger plan to target individuals, not to take and hold land.

5.7.2011: Maureen Murphy christens the destroyer USS Michael Murphy at the Bath Iron Works shipyard in Maine on what would have been his 35th birthday. "I just want to say, 'Happy birthday, Baby,'" Maureen says.

Dee and Vincent Ragusa: A decent burial

The Brooklyn, N.Y., couple lose their firefighter son, Michael, on 9/11 and feel they must wait until his remainsare recovered before they can give him a funeral and decent burial. The search at Ground Zero is navailing.But at an unexpected time and place, they realize they have something to bury.

By Rick Hampson, USA TODAY

9.11.2001: Firefighter Michael Ragusa is killed at the World Trade Center along with 342 other members of the New York Fire Department.

11.22.2001: Dee and Vincent Ragusa spend Thanksgiving alone in their Brooklyn home, where their son resided until his death. Dee has told her other children she still doesn't feel like cooking, let alone making the usual big turkey dinner. In fact, she hasn't opened her oven since 9/11; Vincent has become the cook. The Ragusas are still waiting for recovery and identification of Michael's remains before having a funeral.

10.1.2002: Michael Ragusa is the only firefighter lost on 9/11 not to have had a funeral or memorial service. None of his remains has been found. It's been almost a year since his best friend in the department, Carl Molinaro of Ladder Company 2, who also died at the Trade Center, was laid to rest.

Dee knows some people wonder why she's waiting so long for a funeral. Her answer: "There's no rush."

10.28.2002: Dee and Vincent, acknowledging the obvious and bowing to the requirements of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, apply for a death certificate for Michael. But with no remains to bury, they continue to delay a funeral or memorial service. Dee's thinking: "I'm waiting for them to say, 'We've run the gamut, it's over and we can't ID the bodies anymore.'"

11.19.2002: Dee and Vincent attend a meeting at a church hall on Staten Island to hear a talk by Robert Shaler, chief of forensic medicine for the New York medical examiner's office. Shaler talks about how the remains of their son and most of those lost on 9/11 remain unrecovered or unidentified. But he mentions in passing that some firefighters had given blood in order to become potential bone marrow donors.

Dee and Vincent stare at each other: That's what Michael had done. For the first time, they realize that even if nothing is found in the rubble of Ground Zero, they may have something to bury.

7.6.2003: Dee and Vincent attend the marriage of their youngest son, Kenneth, in Jamaica. Despite their realization that they now have something of Michael to bury - a vial of blood he donated years earlier - Dee hasn't wanted Michael's funeral to overshadow Kenneth's wedding. Now, the way is clear for the last New York City 9/11 Fire Department funeral.

7.30.2003: On what would have been Michael's 31st birthday, Dee and Vincent drive to a Red Cross blood bank to retrieve the vial of blood he donated years earlier, the only remaining identifiable trace of him.

As they drive home, the couple pass Brooklyn Hospital, where Michael was born in 1972. It hits them: In a way, they're taking him home again.

8.29.2003: With the date for her son's funeral set, Dee and Vincent inform the New York medical examiner's office that henceforth, even if remains of Michael Ragusa are found, they should not be notified. "If you find something after the funeral, don't tell me; I don't want to know," Dee says.

9.8.2003: Michael Ragusa becomes the 343rd and final member of the New York City Fire Department lost on 9/11 to have a funeral. "Today's service marks a small but significant step in our healing," Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta tells mourners at St. Bernard's Church in Brooklyn. Scoppetta calls Ragusa "the last of the bravest." His coffin contains only a uniform and the vial of blood he once donated to a blood bank. On the altar is a model of the race car driven by Dale Earnhardt Sr. and the logo for Foster's beer - Ragusa's favorite brew.

12.31.2004: Jennifer Trapani, Michael's former fiancée, has married and lives near Dee and Vincent in Brooklyn. Jennifer and Dee occasionally bump into each other and say they'll get together, but they never do.

"It's just too emotional," Dee says. "Too painful."

"She moved on," Vincent says of Jennifer, who was 22 on 9/11, "which is good."

2.27.2008: John Dewey High School in Brooklyn renames its library the Firefighter Michael Ragusa Media Center, in honor of the member of the Class of 1992.

6.10.2011: Dewey High awards three college-bound seniors $1,025 Michael Ragusa Memorial Scholarships, funded by Dee and Vincent. "They're not the usual kind of scholarships," Vincent explains. "They're for kids who were screw-ups at the beginning of high school, but eventually realized what they had to do and turned it around. That was more or less what Michael did."

Dee says her life's purpose is to keep his memory, and his name, alive.

Matthew Ridout: A conversion and a calling

A young man watches the 9/11 attacks on TV at his high school in southern Virginia and is determined afterward to serve in the military and to learn more about the attackers' culture and creed. Those impulses propel him through the decade, taking him in unexpected vocational and spiritual directions.

By Rick Hampson, USA TODAY

9.11.2001: Matthew Ridout, a junior at Thomas Dale High School in Chester, Va., watches the 9/11 attacks on TV. Students in his classroom, which lacks cable, take apart a spiral notebook and make an antenna.

9.14.2001: Thomas Dale students observe a moment of silence for the victims of the attacks. Teachers and students weep openly as God Bless America plays over the public address system. Ridout, who has always dreamed of a military career, is both appalled and intrigued by the attacks. He wants to learn more about why those men committed such a crime, and what they believe.

10.5.2001: Ridout is at football practice two days before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. His teammates are confident the U.S. will "kick ass" and be done in a few months. Ridout hopes they're right.

1.30.2002: Ridout has visited a Marines recruiter to discuss enlisting after graduation. Although his family wants Ridout to go to college, the 9/11 attacks have made him feel it's more important than ever to participate in the national defense. The attacks also have aroused his interest in Arab culture and Islam - in part because he wants to be an intelligence officer.

3.13.2003: Ridout worries about the impending invasion of Iraq. He believes Americans are blindly following the president into an unnecessary war in the name of patriotism. "Iraq will be our next Vietnam," he tells a friend at track practice. His pal disagrees: "We're going to be in and out." After the invasion, Ridout decides to put off joining the military. He enters Roanoke College in Salem, Va., where he hopes to learn more about Islam.

1.12.2004: Start of second semester at Roanoke College. Ridout is enrolled in "Introduction to Islam." As a Christian growing up in the Bible Belt, he knows almost nothing about Islam. But he thinks it might prepare him for a career as an intelligence officer.

4.19.2004: Last day of classes. Ridout completes course work for "Intro to Islam," which has been a revelation. He's attracted to what he sees as Islam's focus on peace, tolerance and justice. He's surprised by how much Islam has in common with Christianity, yet finds it free of some Christian doctrines he can't accept. He wants to learn more.

10.4.2005: The beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Ridout's first as a Muslim. He formally converted in his dorm room one day in March, reciting the Islamic profession of faith: "There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his messenger."

9.13.2006: Ridout is disappointed by his campus's tepid response to the fifth anniversary of 9/11. He helped organize remembrance ceremonies, but only a few people showed up.

5.5.2007: Ridout graduates with plans to work for Habitat for Humanity in Columbia, S.C. There, for the first time, he'll begin attending Friday prayers at a mosque.

12.1.2008: On his 24th birthday, Ridout reports for boot camp at the Navy's Great Lakes training center near Chicago. He has joined the Navy Reserve, realizing a longtime goal of serving in the military. He hopes the flexibility of the Reserve will allow him to continue his study of religion.

9.13.2010: Ridout begins classes at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. He is pursuing a master's degree in religious studies and hopes eventually to get his doctorate and teach college. He feels his conversion to Islam led to a deeper curiosity about religion.

10.15.2010: Ridout learns from a fellow Navy reservist that another unit will go to Afghanistan next year. He is asked whether he knows anyone in his own unit who would want to volunteer. He says yes: "Me!" Although he opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq, he thinks intervention in Afghanistan - where Osama bin Laden was based - is justified. Ridout has been in the Reserve for two years and hasn't experienced discrimination because of his Muslim faith. But most who meet him - a white man from the Bible Belt - don't suspect what his religion is.

5.5.2011: End of second semester at Hartford Seminary, where Ridout has completed a year's work toward his master's in religious studies. He hopes to return in 2012 to finish work toward his degree. But he'll spend the next year with his Navy Reserve military police unit in Afghanistan, where as a petty officer 3rd class he'll guard detainees - many of them Muslims like himself. He remembers the harm done by U.S. military jailers who abused prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq; he says that can't happen again.

Amiri Baraka: A poet laureate loses his post

The poet-activist watches the twin towers fall on 9/11 and writes a poem that will inject him - and the postof New Jersey poet laureate - into a public debate that illustrates what can and cannot be said about the attacks.

By Blake Morrison and Rick Hampson, USA TODAY

9.11.2001: Amiri Baraka, a radical African-American poet and political activist once known as LeRoi Jones, watches from the third-floor bathroom window of his home in Newark as the World Trade Center towers burn and fall.

10.01.2001: Baraka begins to distribute a poem he has just finished, Somebody Blew Up America. The reception from friends and colleagues is "positive," he will recall.

7.27.2002: Baraka attends a ceremony at the New Jersey governor's mansion in Princeton, where he is named the state's first poet laureate by Gov. James McGreevey. The title comes with a $10,000 honorarium. Baraka tells McGreevey: "You must not read poetry" - an allusion to the radical viewpoints in his writing. McGreevey's response: "I can handle it."

9.19.2002: At the Dodge Poetry Festival at Waterloo Village in Stanhope, N.J., Baraka performs Somebody Blew Up America. He is approached by a woman who tells him the poem is "hateful." She cites lines from it that contend that Israel knew the 9/11 attacks were coming.

9.20.2002: On Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly blasts Baraka for Somebody Blew Up America. Calling the poet a "pinhead," O'Reilly says Baraka is "full of racism, full of anti-Semitism." "Every Jewish person tonight watching this in New Jersey is going, 'I don't want that guy to get a nickel'" of the poet laureate's honorarium, O'Reilly says.

9.27.2002: The Anti-Defamation League writes to McGreevey to complain about Baraka's Somebody Blew Up America, especially this passage: "Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed/Who told 4,000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers/To stay home that day/Why did Sharon stay away?" The ADL says it implies "that Israel was somehow involved in the terrorist plot."

10.02.2002: During a contentious television interview about Somebody Blew Up America, Baraka continues to maintain that Israel, the U.S. and other nations knew of the 9/11 attacks beforehand. "You have an obligation not to foment hatred," CNN anchor Connie Chung tells Baraka. "My responsibility is to truth and beauty," Baraka responds. "What is hatred?" Asked for his source of information, Baraka says: "There is any number of articles on the Internet."

10.03.2002: Baraka says he won't accede to a request by the governor that he step down as state poet laureate. Baraka says Somebody Blew Up America "is a poem that aims to probe and disturb, but there is not any evidence of anti-Semitism."

10.06.2002: McGreevey plans to seek authority from state lawmakers to strip Baraka of his title as state poet laureate. The governor's staff works with lawmakers to draft a bill that "would give the governor power to terminate the reign of the current poet laureate."

11.21.2002: The Newark school board creates a new position - school district poet laureate - and appoints Baraka, an act characterized by The New York Times as "an act of defiance aimed at the state's political establishment."

7.02.2003: Baraka, who has refused to resign as poet laureate, becomes the first and last New Jersey poet laureate when McGreevey signs a bill that eliminates the position.

11.13.2007: While attending a book fair in Venezuela, Baraka hears that the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to consider whether his First Amendment rights were violated when New Jersey lawmakers eliminated the position of poet laureate in 2003 with him in it. After hearing the news, Baraka performs Somebody Blew Up America.

1.27.2011: Baraka speaks to several hundred people at the University of Virginia as part of the school's Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration. Baraka, 76, tells how his first meeting with King (who had come to his front door) in 1968 was captured in a photograph that hung for many years in Newark City Hall, but that it was taken down after he wrote Somebody Blew up America- which he proceeds to read, while periodically drumming on the lectern and interjecting a jazzy tune.

Baraka's website has both the disputed poem and his self-defense.

James Zadroga: The air at Ground Zero

A New York City police detective rushes to Ground Zero on 9/11 to search through the smoky wreckage of the World Trade Center. He spends 470 hours over three weeks on the pile. Afterward, his health begins to fail, and he eventually becomes the face of the fight to provide treatment for thousands of workers who breathed the debris-filled air. Yet the cause of Zadroga's own death becomes the subject of debate.

By Rick Hampson, USA TODAY

9.11.2001: Detective James Zadroga, just off an overnight shift, rushes back to the city from his home upstate after learning of the World Trade Center attack. His pregnant wife begs him not to go. He says he has to. He later says he left her crying in the driveway.

9.18.2001: EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman says her agency's study of air quality at Ground Zero after the collapse of the World Trade Center allows her to reassure New Yorkers "that their air is safe to breathe" and that any pollutants "don't pose a health hazard." Meanwhile, Zadroga and thousands of others work in the recovery-removal operation. Some have respirators. Some, like Zadroga, wear paper masks. Some use nothing.

10.2.2001: Zadroga, a nine-year New York Police Department veteran and a non-smoker with no history of respiratory ailments, has spent hundreds of hours over the past three weeks working at Ground Zero. He has a chronic cough and feels as though he has the flu, he tells his father.

11.1.2001: Birth of Tyler Ann Zadroga, first child of Ronda and James Zadroga. The new father is increasingly short of breath and often calls in sick.

12.15.2002: Zadroga has been classified a "habitual sick time user." He must drive periodically from home to a police medical office in Queens to be checked out. Over time, he gets into several auto accidents en route - the result, he says, of passing out at the wheel. He says police officials won't admit that his sickness stems from toxic dust at Ground Zero.

9.1.2002: To help his father-in-law, a minister, with a 9/11 anniversary sermon, Zadroga writes down his memories of working at Ground Zero. In addition to suffering from severe respiratory problems, he says, he is anxious, has trouble sleeping and has nightmares when he does. "The site was like nothing I've ever seen before. The dust (was) so thick you couldn't read your partner's shield standing next to you," he writes.

"We started looking for survivors or even bodies, but the soot was so thick you couldn't tell if you were standing on a piece of steel or a human arm. ... All you could find was pieces and pieces ... of what once was a human. ... No one I knew was mentally prepared to see what we came across."

2.16.2003: Zadroga, now on long-term disability leave, moves with his wife and daughter to a farm near his wife's parents in Arcadia, Fla.

10.12.2003: Ronda Zadroga dies suddenly in Arcadia at age 29. Her in-laws blame the strain of their son's long illness and his contentious dealings with the police medical board, which denies a connection between his health problems and work at Ground Zero.

5.1.2004: The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001 awards Zadroga more than $1 million after concluding that his exposure to dust at Ground Zero caused respiratory illness. Over the next year, he buys a Porsche 911 sports car, a 33-foot fishing boat and a 39-foot RV for his parents. He also is allowed to retire with a line-of-duty disability pension.

12.25.2005: After a month of being in and out of the hospital because of blood clots on his lungs, Zadroga spends Christmas with his parents and 4-year-old daughter in New Jersey. He has spent about $1,500 on presents for his daughter, as if he thinks this Christmas will be his last. But he is too weak to help her unwrap them.

1.5.2006: Zadroga dies at age 34 in his parents' home. His father finds his body at dawn on the floor of the bedroom where his daughter was sleeping. Zadroga apparently had gotten up to bring her a drink and collapsed.

2.2.2006: A federal judge in New York chastises Christine Todd Whitman for her reassuring comments after 9/11 about the air at Ground Zero. "Whitman's deliberate and misleading statements to the press ... shocks the conscience," writes Judge Deborah Batts. The EPA's own air studies refuted Whitman's claims, the judge says.

2.28.2006: A report by the Ocean County, N.J., medical examiner's office says Zadroga's death was "directly related" to his work at Ground Zero. The report is the first official link between toxic air and a rescue or recovery worker's death.

10.18.2007: New York City chief medical examiner Charles Hirsch tells Zadroga's parents that his death was not caused by exposure to toxic dust at Ground Zero. Hirsch acknowledges that "foreign material" was in Zadroga's lungs but says it didn't come from the World Trade Center site. His explanation for Zadroga's lung disease outrages his parents: ground-up painkillers that were injected into Zadroga's veins. The Zadrogas say that's impossible: For the last years of his life, they gave Zadroga all of his medication.

10.26.2007: The New York Daily News says there's "mounting evidence" that the city's medical examiner "libeled" Zadroga's memory. The paper says Hirsch treated Zadroga's parents with "the brutal, clinical efficiency of a man accustomed to working with flesh on ice" and "left the lingering, disgraceful implication that Zadroga was a drug abuser."

10.29.2007: Mayor Michael Bloomberg says science sometimes provides unpopular answers, as in the Zadroga case: "We wanted to have a hero. ... It's just in this case, science says this was not a hero." The next day, Bloomberg backs off: "This was a great officer who dedicated himself - put his life in harm's way hundreds of times during his career. It's a question of how you want to define what a hero is ..."

9.15.2008:TheNew Yorker reports new details about the death of Zadroga's wife, Ronda. The magazine says "a local investigation noted that, according to the medical examiner's office, Ronda's lethal infection could not be conclusively determined to be the result of intravenous drug use. But track marks and multiple needle punctures were found on the body, and a toxicology report revealed non-toxic levels of drugs, including methadone."

10.21.2008: Zadroga is one of eight NYPD officers who died after 9/11 to receive distinguished-service medals. "They were part of the greatest rescue effort in the history of the police department," Commissioner Raymond Kelly says.

6.24.2009: The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act is introduced in the U.S. Senate. It would establish monitoring and treatment for first responders and others exposed to dust at Ground Zero. Mayor Bloomberg supports the legislation - many workers have sued, saying they got sick because the city neglected their safety - but he also supports the city medical examiner's finding that Zadroga was not killed by inhaling dust at the site.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., says she believes Zadroga died of 9/11-related causes: "Whatever the immediate cause of death, the fundamental cause of death was his grave respiratory illness."

12.9.2010: The Senate votes 57-42 in favor of the Zadroga Act. But supporters lack the 60 votes to override a Republican filibuster. Republicans want Democratic concessions on tax cuts, and they express concerns about how to pay for the $7.4 billion bill.

A similar bill has passed the House, but it looks as if the Senate version can't pass before the end of the session.

12.16.2010:Jon Stewart devotes nine minutes on his Comedy Central program, The Daily Show, to lambasting congressional opponents of the Zadroga Act. The comedian calls Republicans' opposition "an outrageous abdication of our responsibility to those who were most heroic on 9/11."

He says the fact that Congress has, meanwhile, passed tax cuts, "is great news for firefighters who make more than $200,000 a year." White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says Stewart may have helped keep alive hopes for passing the bill.

12.22.2010: Both houses of Congress pass the Zadroga Act, which seemed dead earlier in the month. The legislation sets aside $4.3billion in health care and economic aid for first responders and survivors of the terror attacks.

When President Obama signs the bill, Joseph Zadroga - thinking of his son - calls it "a bittersweet victory."

And whether James' death actually was caused by Ground Zero air remains in dispute.

USA Today

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