Blind World Magazine


9-11 survivor: Learn through remembrance.





September 12, 2005.
Beaumont Enterprise, Texas.




CAPTION: With his seeing-eye dog, Roselle, at his side, Michael Hingson speaks Sunday at the First Baptist Church of Nederland about surviving the Sept. 11 attacks. Scott Eslinger/The Enterprise


NEDERLAND -- On Sept. 11, 2001, Michael Hingson rode the elevator up to his office on the 78th floor in the north tower of the World Trade Center, and just a short time later, after the first plane struck the first tower, he calmly took the stairs down -- all 78 flights of them -- step for step behind his guide dog, Roselle.


Yesterday, four years after the terrorist attacks on the twin towers, the Pentagon and the Flight 93 crash, Hingson visited the First Baptist Church of Nederland from his home in Novato, Calif., as a roving ambassador for Guide Dogs for the Blind and told his story of survival and the continuing partnership he shares with the yellow Labrador by his side. Greeted with a standing ovation and thunderous applause from the crowd (to which Roselle barely cocked an ear), Hingson began, "This truly is a day of remembrance."


"Through remembrance we learn," Hingson said. "Only through remembering can we find the lessons we need to learn to move forward."


What Hingson remembers is the impact as the first plane hit the 96th floor and the north tower moving, tilting about 20 feet in the same direction, before swaying back and then dropping about 6 feet.


He remembers the smell of jet fuel, but not knowing what had happened until hours later when he and Roselle were safely out of the building and his wife, Karen, told him over the phone.


He remembers calling Karen while waiting for everyone else to be rounded up to the exits. He followed with Roselle, who unperturbed followed his directions and safely guided Hingson through to the stairwell and down the seemingly endless stairs.


He remembers people shouting down to them to stand to the side, they were bringing a burn victim through, and the time when a colleague said that they wouldn't make it, and they took a break for a group hug.


David Frank, a colleague visiting from California, counted down the floors as they passed, Hingson said. He also shouted back what he was seeing, what was going on, Hingson said.


At one point firefighters started streaming up the stairs, against the tide.


"They stopped when they came to us," Hingson said. "'Are you OK? Is your dog OK? Can we help you?' they asked. ... They petted Roselle, and she gave them kisses. It was the last time they experienced unconditional love. Many of them died."


At this point, Hingson stopped his retelling and addressed the crowd.


"I refuse to remember them with a moment of silence and mourning," Hingson said. "Let's celebrate their lives with a brief round of applause."


Everyone clapped; some people cried.


"I asked them if we could help them (the firefighters)," Hingson continued. "They told us, 'your job is to go down and get out; ours is to deal with what is up above.'"


Down and down they went, Hingson said, until they made into the lobby. It was a lobby transformed, he said.


"The lobby was a chaotic nightmare," Hingson said. "There was water ankle deep and everywhere you stepped something crushed beneath your feet -- it was the marble from around the lobby. An hour later, an hour after the plane hit the building, we were out of the building."


They still didn't know what had happened or that a second plane had hit the second tower, Hingson said.


Then they heard something happening, a "roar," a "combination freight train and waterfall" and we realized the building was coming down, Hingson said.


A strange sort of calm settled over Hingson as he told himself, "don't worry about what you can't control, focus on what you can," which was running away as fast as possible with Roselle, he said.


"We were engulfed in all that dust and debris," Hingson said. "Roselle guided perfectly in all that dust. In all that dust she could still see."


At one point Hingson's colleague David turned back to look, Hingson said.


"David said, 'Oh my God, there is no tower two anymore,'" Hingson said. "Then the other tower fell, and David said, 'Oh my God, there is no World Trade Center anymore.'"


It was later that night that Hingson and Roselle finally made it home to New Jersey, Hingson said. The day might have been over, but the lifetime of remembering while moving forward was only just beginning, Hingson said.


>From one survivor of a tragedy to another, Hingson's heart goes out to those affected by Hurricane Katrina.


"Getting past the tragedy is hard," Hingson said. "Everyone must go at their own pace. Everyone must work together. I hope for some people this can be an opportunity to do something different."


It was out of the 9-11 tragedy of a nation that Hingson discovered his new vocation in life, as an advocate for the blind and the guide dogs who help them.


"Blindness can be reduced to the level of a nuisance with proper training," Hingson said. "But the real handicap comes from the attitudes of a society that emphasizes sight."


Now Hingson is one a two-fold fundraising mission. As always he works to secure donations for Guide Dogs for the Blind, an organization dedicated to providing people who are blind with dogs to help guide them. In addition he is raising both awareness and money for victims of Hurricane Katrina who are blind or otherwise disabled, Hingson said.


For more information about Guide Dogs for the Blind, visit their Web site at www.guidedogs.com.


eenloe@beaumontenterprise.com
(409) 833-3311, ext. 412



Source URL: http://www.southeasttexaslive.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=15197033&BRD=2287&PAG=461&dept_id=512588&rfi=6




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