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People Whose Lives Were Touched by 9/11 Share Their Experiences

Aired September 10, 2004 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Their triumph over heartbreak, their struggle to build new lives. Three years after the horror of 9/11...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You want to look up?

ZAHN: The loved ones left behind look to their future. Tonight, a PAULA ZAHN NOW special, "9/11: After the Tears, Hope Rising."

You're looking at a live picture tonight of sacred ground illuminated in downtown Manhattan, ground zero on the eve of a three- year milestone of 9/11.


ZAHN: And good evening. Thanks so much for being with us tonight. Tonight, we're focusing on the future, starting with tomorrow's date, September 11. Perhaps it will always be a milestone, a day to look ahead, as well as back., a chance to measure how far we've come and how so many lives have changed.


ZAHN (voice-over): The weather today in New York remarkably similar to 9/11, a crystal clear blue sky, not too hot. It's unsettling, as if that hole in the skyline isn't enough of a reminder.

There's been a death in the family, all our families. The pain is still here, duller now, a little further below the surface. We watch that first long winter and spring as the pile of rubble shrank, revealing the hole, the scar.

People still come here to stare or think or just remember. Most walk by, business as usual, with guns and dogs reminding us that usual is now different. But New York and America have moved on. Tonight, our focus is not on real estate, but on lives, lives changed forever, those who survived to rise above the depths of 9/11, like the sweeping structures that are just drawings today, but will be on the skyline, if not tomorrow, then one day.


ZAHN: Nine-eleven shattered thousands of American families and left so many children to grow up with only memories of a mother or a father. That loss will color who they are for the rest of their lives.

Here's how some have found help moving forward.


FRANCO STEWART, SON OF 9/11 VICTIM: I'm Franco Stewart.


STEWART: I'm 16 years old, and I lost my dad on the 92nd floor of the second tower in the World Trade Center.

THOMPSON: I'm 16 years old. And my dad died on September 11.

STEWART: He was probably the top one or two people I could talk to about just about anything.

THOMPSON: He was funny. He was big. And he's a very -- as we English like to say, a very jolly person. And so he was a great guy. And I really miss him.

ZAHN (voice-over): It's estimated that thousands of children suffered unthinkable loss on September 11, 2001. Franco and Ella lost their fathers. To help them deal with the loss, their mothers sent them to Comfort Zone Camp, a bereavement camp which held special sessions for the children of 9/11.

STEWART: I was kind of uneasy about going. My father had only died a couple of months earlier. So it was kind of a weird situation, but it was nice to know that other people had experienced the same thing.

THOMPSON: I didn't want to go. My mom actually made me go.

LYNNE HUGHES, FOUNDER, COMFORT ZONE CAMP: When I first met Ella, I could see somebody who was in a lot of pain and had a lot of emotions and was searching for outlets.

ZAHN: Lynne Hughes founded the camp because she knew how hard it is for kids to deal with death. Her mother died when she was 9, her father when she was 12.

HUGHES: There's something magical about camp, and when you take kids away from their day-to-day life and it's kind of an artificial bubble where time stands still and in that artificial bubble you create this safe atmosphere.

ZAHN: Comfort Zone looks like a regular camp, color war, swimming, arts and crafts. But these activities help the campers, all of whom have lost a loved one, to talk, to grieve, and perhaps most importantly, to remember.

THOMPSON: I remember that day vividly in my mind because I woke up, and it was such a gorgeous day. And I remember what I was wearing and all sorts of stuff. But you never know what's going to happen, and the worst did. Yes, it does make me sad that I don't have a future with him in it. But, you know, I think -- I think memories are good, even if they do make you a bit sad, because that's what keeps you -- connects you to that person.

My memories of my dad used to upset me a lot. And I think what's great about this camp is you kind of learn to embrace them. And I'm trying. I'm going to get Mary-Claire (ph) to smile. I'm going to. She's going to like genuinely smile.

ZAHN: Ella has returned to Comfort Zone Camp six times over the past three years., Franco, eight times. This summer, they came back, not as campers, this time, as counselors.

STEWART: I think I can help them to see the positive light in their situation. And I'm going to keep them upbeat, because I tended to get down in the dumps sometimes when I lost my dad, which is understandable. But I think they should understand that there's a good side to things. And it's good to talk to people about their feelings.

THOMPSON: And, you know, it's fun to sort of be a counselor and sort of you're not like in charge, but you are more than you were. And, you know, I talk to the kids, and my girls are great.

I love you, Claire.

The way they've come through, I think little kids have quite a lot of resilience and these kids really do. They're amazing. I love them. Oh, man, I love them. They're so great.

ZAHN: That love and admiration made a difference for Ella.

THOMPSON: I definitely think there are stages that you have to go through, and, you know, the first definitely is, you know, shock. And then the second, I was probably angry. I was very upset, and I think you learn to deal with it. And this place is great to learn how to sort of let it go and also embrace it.

ZAHN: Now, three years after 9/11, these two campers turned counselors look forward.

Franco, who excels in sports, wears his father's football jersey around camp. Ella sings her dad's favorite song in tribute.

THOMPSON: He would have been great in this atmosphere, you know. I mean, I'm sure he would have loved to do this sort of thing, too.

ZAHN: For kids, every day should bring a new experience, a new beginning. But that day three years ago was an ending for so many children. For these two, a journey started in tragedy has taken a new direction, toward a future filled with new promise and renewed hope.


ZAHN: And Ella Thompson is here with me now.

I know you've traveled a very long and painful road to get to the point where you could talk about what your father might have loved most about this camp. What would have touched him?

THOMPSON: Well, he was a very loving person. He would have wanted to reach out to these kids and help them, just as I really want to now. The reason I go there is to do that, and that's what he would have done or he would have wanted to do.

ZAHN: Because you understand every emotion they confront.

THOMPSON: Completely. I went through it and I know exactly how they feel. And I know that the best thing is just to talk it through and just to kind of accept it. And that's just what he would have done.

ZAHN: There's something very pure about the shared experience you all had. And we'd love for you to stand by and come back with us at the end of the hour to share more of your experience with us.

If the attacks of 9/11 were meant to drive a wedge between America and the rest of the world, they failed, at least for two women we'll meet who transformed their sorrow into hope for others half a world away.


SUSAN RETIK, WIFE OF 9/11 VICTIM: Before 9/11, I couldn't have told you where Afghanistan was on a map.



ZAHN: And we are back.

Afghanistan was a training ground for 9/11 terrorists, so it seems incredible that two American women whose husbands died on that day turned their pain into determination to change lives halfway around the world. They founded an organization called Beyond the 11th to help Afghan war widows.

Elizabeth Cohen has their story.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ground zero three years later, a place for Susan Retik and Patti Quigley to remember the husbands they lost here. And then:

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks, everybody.

COHEN: A place to leave, a departure point.

PATTI QUIGLEY, WIFE OF 9/11 VICTIM: We want to go beyond what happened, taking the terror and turning it into something positive.

COHEN: Patti and Susan have been training for months to cycle from New York about 260 miles to the Boston Public Garden Memorial for the 202 Massachusetts victims killed in the attacks on September 11. Neither woman was a serious cyclist before, but they've pushed forward, fueled by the hope of raising $100,000 for a good cause.

(on camera): What do you think your husband would say if he knew that you were cycling from New York to Boston?

RETIK: Well, I think he'd be proud. He'd probably think, oh, that's another crazy thing Susan's doing.

COHEN (voice-over): These two women live five minutes apart from each other in suburban Boston, but didn't know each other before September 11. Their husbands' deaths forged a bond. Patti was eight months pregnant with her second child, Leah, when Patrick died. Susan was seven months pregnant with her third child, Dina, when David died. A few months after their babies were born, Susan read about the plight of widows in Afghanistan.

QUIGLEY: Susan came to the house and she said, do you guys see what's going on in Afghanistan? The widows, they have nothing. Do you understand the situation there?

COHEN (on camera): What kind of connection do you feel to the widows in Afghanistan?

RETIK: I feel very much a kinship with them. And before 9/11, I couldn't have told you where Afghanistan was on a map.

COHEN: (voice-over): The more they learned, the more they felt they had to do something.

QUIGLEY: There are somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 widows in Kabul alone. And that's just one city in a whole country of people that have been at war for 25 years.

COHEN: The contrast between the treatment of the 9/11 widows in the United States and the war widows in Afghanistan is stark. If Afghanistan, when a man dies, his property goes to his family, not to his wife, leaving many widows and children homeless and destitute. Susan and Patti hope the money they raise will go towards programs that teach Afghan widows a trade so they can support themselves and their children.

ZOHRA SHAMSZAI, CARE: Some of the women who have received some skill, they are now very happy and they think, now I am able to run my life because now I have some skill. And this will help me and my children.

COHEN: Despite their tremendous loss, Susan and Patti feel very fortunate to have been given so much.

QUIGLEY: We received the Red Cross, the Salvation Army. Our neighborhoods did meals for us for six, seven months. It was just a natural step for Susan and I to take. For me, you know, I was able to draw strength from what everybody gave me.




COHEN: Now Patti has shared her mission with her 8-year-old daughter, Rachel (ph).

QUIGLEY: She understands that the terrorists killed her dad and that these people need help, like we needed help.

COHEN: Susan's 6-year-old son, Ben, will join his mother on the last mile of the ride to the Boston Memorial. They'll hold a short ceremony there to honor those they've lost and support those they want to help half a world away.


ZAHN: That report was from CNN's Elizabeth Cohen. Patti Quigley and Susan Retik got on their bikes at ground zero yesterday. They arrive in Boston tomorrow. Tonight, they join us on the road in Pomfret Center, Connecticut, not far from the Massachusetts border.

This is probably the first break you've gotten in hours. And we're delighted to have both of you with us and salute what the two of you are doing.

So, Susan, you talked about the pride your husband would have in what you're doing now. Wouldn't he also be surprised that a woman who has really never ridden a bike much more than a couple miles could accomplish what you're about to accomplish?

RETIK: Yes, I think he'd be very proud.

And, you know, I've done some crazy things in my life, so maybe he wouldn't be too shocked at this, but I'm certain he would be very proud of what Patti and I have been working towards. And tomorrow, we finish up at the Boston Commons. But that's just the beginning of our journey. The work really starts after that.

ZAHN: Patti, how are you holding up physically?

QUIGLEY: If you had asked me a few hours ago, it would have been a different answer.


QUIGLEY: You know what? We're doing fine and we'll definitely finish it. Today was grueling with the hills in Connecticut. Yesterday was kind of fun and distracting, coming out of New York and going through the streets of the city. But we're pretty tired tonight.

(LAUGHTER) ZAHN: Well, just look at it this way. At some point, we're going to give you permission to stand. We would love for the two of you to stand by. And in this break, we're going to give you between the time we come back to you. You can get off those very sore bottoms of yours. We'll see you in a couple of minutes. And thanks again. Your example really is quite powerful of this generosity you've shown.

There were also husbands who lost wives on September 11 -- a mother gone, but a father determined to make a lasting tribute.


DONN MARSHALL, SHELLEY MARSHALL FOUNDATION: We're going to keep Shelley's spirit alive. You know, I'm not going to give bin Laden the last word on Shelley's life. I'm going to give her the last word.



ZAHN: Life is about making choices and making the best of what we have chosen. We continue our look at lives touched by 9/11 with the story of a man who lost his wife at the Pentagon, but chose a remarkable way to keep her memory alive.


D. MARSHALL: I think moving on suggests that you can leave something behind. And I don't know that any of us are ever going to leave 9/11 behind.

ZAHN (voice-over): Three years ago, Donn Marshall's wife, Shelley, worked as a budget analyst, but that doesn't begin to describe the vibrant person Donn knew, loved and lost.

D. MARSHALL: She didn't do anything halfway, you know. She loved with abandon. And, you know, when she became a mother, she became the most amazing mother.

ZAHN: In that before life, Donn was an intelligence analyst. Every day on his way to work, he parted with Shelley at the Pentagon, where she worked and where their kids, 3 1/2 year old Drake and Chandler, 21 months, were in day care. On 9/11, when he learned the Pentagon was under attack, Donn rushed back to find his family.

D. MARSHALL: They were evacuating the kids from the day care and I found them and I pulled them as close as I could. And that was the happiest moment of my life, you know. Then that was followed, like the turn of a dime, that was the worst moment of my life, because I knew Shelley should have been there.

ZAHN: He volunteered with the rescue teams, working as a stretcher bearer.

D. MARSHALL: At one point, they told us all, you know, you're going to go in there and there are going to be these horribly burned corpses. And so if you can't handle it, it's OK, but you need to step back now. I remember thinking, how many husbands have to hear that?

ZAHN: Then reinforcements came to help with the rescue.

D. MARSHALL: The choice was go in and try and find Shelley and quite possibly die or go home to the kids. Obviously, I chose to go home with the kids, and that's the rational thing to do. But there's a big part of me that thinks I should have gone in there. I'll always feel that I neglected my duty to Shelley. Even though I know that she was gone instantly now, it doesn't matter. That was what I was supposed to do.

ZAHN: He went on to comfort the children and contact area hospitals. Maybe Shelley had managed to escape the carnage. Three days later, Donn received word, confirming what he already knew in his heart. Shelley was gone.

D. MARSHALL: I told Drake that God needed another angel, and he understood that.

ZAHN: The very next day, Donn started the Shelley A. Marshall Foundation to keep her spirit alive. The foundation started creative writing contests and workshops for budding artists. Shelley's love of tea inspired Donn to take high school students to senior citizens homes, just to pass the time.

D. MARSHALL: It may seem to be a strange way of fighting back, but it's her way.

ZAHN: Touching strangers, but more importantly touching her children, Drake and Chandler, now 6 and 4 years old.

D. MARSHALL: They're going to associate Shelley with dignity, bringing dignity to seniors. They're going to associate her with that clink of cup and saucer and the laughing and the pleasant conversation. They'll associate her with beautiful art.

And that appreciation will just grow as they get older, I think, because they realize that there's so much of their mother in these activities.

ZAHN: Shelley will always be with them, a watchful presence in the house Donn is getting ready to build.

D. MARSHALL: It's the dream house that we'd envisioned. It's going to be the place the kids grow up and they'll remember, and, you know, it will always be mommy's house.

The front of the house is going to be understated.

ZAHN: The house, the foundation, it's all for Shelley.

D. MARSHALL: I think she'd look at me and say, you know, you doofus.


D. MARSHALL: She'd say, you're doing all this for me, you know. And she'd be embarrassed, but I think she'd be proud.

ZAHN: But perhaps most proud of how he's taken care of Drake and Chandler, comforted them, guided them, and kept her in their lives.

D. MARSHALL: The tiger growled menacingly and started toward the duck.

I read to them before bed every night. And there are some nights when they say, we want mommy to read to us. And we'll come down and there's a videotape that we have of her reading to the kids around Easter.


SHELLEY MARSHALL, MOTHER: See, this dog? His name is Barkus (ph).


D. MARSHALL: And so we'll put on the videotape and she'll read to them.


S. MARSHALL: Hey, there's the sister with the kitty cat.


D. MARSHALL: I hope I'm keeping her in their lives in a positive way and that they'll always feel that she's there.


ZAHN: And Donn Marshall joins me now from Arlington, Virginia.

What a beautiful tribute your work is to your wife's memory. Tell us a little bit of what your vision is for the foundation's future.

D. MARSHALL: Well, I want it to grow, obviously.

But the important thing in our activities is that there's so much of Shelley in them. And we also do story hours at public libraries and teaching kids to read and encouraging them to read, things that Shelley loved. And as long as we can expand and keep Shelley's presence in the activities, then I think we're doing a good job.

ZAHN: We so appreciate your sharing your story with us. I know it's still filled with very raw emotions. And we'd like to check back with you in a little bit, while -- all of our guests will share their experiences a little bit later on this evening. Thanks.

D. MARSHALL: Thanks.

ZAHN: And even for those who didn't lose a loved one on 9/11, the event had the power to transform lives and, for one young rescue worker we'll meet, steel his will for an Olympic victory.


JASON READ, 9/11 RESCUE WORKER: There are very few opportunities that you can define yourself and you can define how you want to be remembered. And those defining moments, you have to take advantage of, because they don't come every day.



ZAHN: During this hour, we're seeing how people have overcome the tragedy of September 11 and moved forward with their lives.

For Jason Read, that terrible day was the beginning of a journey, a journey that started in the ruins of the World Trade Center and ended in triumph at Olympic games.


ZAHN (voice-over): It was a victory for the United States. A gold medal for a team denied for 40 years, a triumph for a man who three years ago came face-to-face with overwhelming loss.

JASON READ, OLYMPIC MEDALIST: When we arrived at a very dark lower Manhattan on the evening of the 11th, it was very difficult to discern where you were, because there was so much destruction. You know, this 45-acre site or 44-acre site had been annihilated.

ZAHN: Jason Read trained to save lives since he was 14, so committed that he became one of the youngest volunteer rescue chiefs in New Jersey history. But no training could prepare him or his squad for what they encountered at Ground Zero.

READ: Trying to capture the historical context of 3,000 people being murdered in 90 minutes, I don't think any class or drill or scenario or case study, I don't think anything can prepare you for that.

Are there more planes coming in? Are we being targeted by al Qaeda? Are they going to try to take out the emergency services that are here to help people? Are we going to be targeted, as we've seen happen in other cities that have been victims of terror.

In the early morning hours of the 12th, one of my partners said, Jason, the sun's rising, and it's rising on a new world. Everything has changed now. The face of history's been changed. And Jamie was right.

ZAHN: It wasn't until Jason finished his rescue work at Ground Zero, five days later, that he realized how profound the change would be.

READ: Once you extract yourself from that environment, you no longer have these protection mechanisms that our bodies are able to -- these barriers, these emotional barriers that our bodies are able to manage while you're doing pretty gruesome work.

I was totally disoriented. I arrived back at Jersey City's exchange place and had little girls coming up to me, hanging off my gear, and people were singing "God bless America," the national anthem, holding candlelight vigils.

And that was a life changing experience. And so I just sat down next to one of the buildings, and I cried my eyes out.

ZAHN: For months after, Jason was sleepless, haunted, like so many people, by a feeling of helplessness for not being able to rescue everyone.

READ: I had a difficult time. I was finishing up school. I had no attention span. I think what got me out of it was a loving family and a great network of friends that -- lots of fun, and just committed to supporting our country and kind of keeping an eye on me, trying to help keep my train on the tracks without totally imploding. And for that I'm very grateful.

ZAHN: Rowing helped bring him back to life. He was just 11 when he fell in love with the sport, the water and the teamwork, a camaraderie and commitment that he says parallels rescue work.

READ: In order to be successful you have to put aside your independence. You don't lose your autonomy, but you certainly work in a collaborative effort.

I've seen the glorious results of what that team effort yields and the tenacity and the dedication that my teammates and I -- my teammates are my best friends. They're like brothers to me.

ZAHN: With this dedicated band of brothers, Read brought home the historic rowing gold medal, motivated by his experience three years before, memories that made his victory about more than just medals.

READ: The parallel for me is representing your country during such tumultuous times was -- was the greatest honor that I could ever ask for. And to be able to win and to wear the flag over my heart on my uniform, a flag that I used to orient myself down at Ground Zero.

In life, there are very few opportunities that you can define yourself and you can define how you want to be remembered, and those defining moments, you have to take advantage of, because they don't come every day.


ZAHN: And Jason Read joins me now. Congratulations.

READ: Thank you very much. Thank you.

ZAHN: When you think about the years of training that you've endured and the amount of emotional healing you've been confronted with since 9/11, take us back to when you heard the national anthem as it became very official that you, indeed, had won the gold medal. What was it like?

READ: It was the happiest moment of my life. All the training that we'd been -- the thousands and thousands of hours that we'd put into that, and to be able to represent your country at the Olympic games and to win an Olympic gold medal and set a world record was the greatest moment I could ever hope for and pray for.

ZAHN: But 9/11 was not far from your memory bank, wasn't it?

READ: That's right. And it certainly provided me with so much inspiration and motivation, because those symbols that we held dear to us before, during and after 9/11 were -- that's -- the national anthem and the flag, those symbols are so strong and so pure for our nation.

ZAHN: What a triumph. And boy, did you represent us well.

Jason Read, please stand by. Jason and my other guests will be back shortly to talk more about their shared experience.

In the months after the attacks, the remains of hundreds of police and firefighters would be laid to rest to a mournful sound. Brothers on a mission of remembrance when we come back.


ZAHN: We're looking at a live picture of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., tonight.

There is a long tradition in the New York City Fire Department that bagpipes are played when a comrade falls. Those piercing notes by the pipers, a reminder of the sacrifice a brother in uniform has made.

This is a story about honor, of how the band played on and on and on.

Here's Maria Hinojosa.


MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The New York Fire Department's bagpipe band members had never faced anything like this.


HINOJOSA: Three hundred and forty-three firefighters died on September 11, and the band wanted each to have a traditional farewell.

In one year, the band played at nearly 450 services. Sometimes, a memorial service would take place. And sometimes, the firefighters' remains would be found later and the band would play again at the same firefighter's funeral.

(on camera) Is there some good that all of us as Americans can learn from what you guys did, playing over 400 memorials in the year after September 11? What do we all learn from that kind of tenacity and commitment?

FIREFIGHTER JIM MCENANEY, FDNY BAGPIPE BAND CHAIRMAN: Dedication, commitment. Just love of our fellow firefighters and their families.

HINOJOSA: It's the kind of music that sends shivers up your spine. In New York now, when you hear the bagpipes playing, you know something has happened.

KERRY SHERIDAN, AUTHOR, "BAGPIPE BROTHERS": A hero has died. That's what the sounds mean. And that's why we cry, because we realize, from hearing that music, we've endured a very special and deep loss at the same time. Everybody lays everyone to rest.

You never -- you don't live alone as a firefighter and you don't die alone.

HINOJOSA: Kerry Sheridan spent a year with the bagpipers, going to the funerals, and wrote a book about her experience.

SHERIDAN: I wanted a document to exist about what happened, and what the men went through so that people who lose family members or friends in tragedies would understand that there is a greater strength that you can tap into in yourself.

You may not think that you have it, but you may find that you do. That was the great test of September 11.

HINOJOSA: The 70 men of the bagpipe band were tested that year after September 11. They played in wealthy suburbs. They played in poor New York barrios. They played in the rain. They played at Ground Zero. They played through tears for the victims and for those left behind.

Firefighter Bill Woods was there.

FIREFIGHTER BILL WOODS, FDNY BAGPIPE BAND: I didn't think we would ever do something like that now. But, you know, I was confident in the guys, and we have done it, you know. It's been done. Nothing like this will ever be done again, and -- hopefully.

HINOJOSA: And so men trained to rush into burning buildings took slow, deliberate tests. No need to hasten the good-bye. Their drums, covered in black, summoning rhythm from the spirits, providing comfort. You are present, even though you're gone.

SHERIDAN: Of course, they're a symbol but really they're heroes in the -- the absolute meaning of the term. They're humans. They make mistakes. They have questions and doubts.

And that's what's beautiful about it to me, is not that they were icons and one-dimensional. They were people that suffered a great deal to do this. Certainly wasn't easy. But they did it.

And I think that really, that's where people should draw strength is knowing that sometimes the people we look up to are just like us. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: That report from Maria Hinojosa.

In a moment, some of those whose stories you've seen tonight will join me to tell about rising above their sorrow to find new hope. And what's right with America since 9/11. Straight ahead, right out of this break.


ZAHN: And I'd like to welcome back our guests now: Ella Thompson and Jason Read with me here in New York; Patti Quigley and Susan Retik in Palmford (ph) Center, Connecticut; and Donn Marshall in Arlington, Virginia.

Welcome back. You have all inspired us this evening.

Donn, we were all so moved by your story, and we would simply understand why you would have collapsed under the pressure of what you were going through. But somehow, some way, you found this enormous internal strength. What was the turning point for you?

DONN MARSHALL, WIFE DIED ON 9/11: I think, you know, realizing that I had to go on for the kids. That helped me keep putting one foot in front of the other.

And then realizing, too, how much Shelley's spirit had become a part of mine and that that spirit would not be still. You know, that I had to give it a voice. And that the foundation was a way to give it a voice, to go out and do things that she loved for other people. And it's a way of keeping our kids in touch with her.

But most of all, it's the kids. It's having to -- to raise those kids the best way I can and to keep Shelley in their life in a positive way.

ZAHN: And Susan, because you lost your husband, you obviously had to put on a strong face for the rest of your family. Are you surprised at that reservoir of strength you found?

SUSAN RETIK, HUSBAND DIED ON 9/11: Definitely. I think Patti and I both agree that after our husbands were killed, we were overcome by a strength that even surprised me. I almost felt like superwoman, that I knew I had to get things done and we just did.

Sort of when you look back on it you wonder, well, where did I get all that strength? And I think the answer is from friends and family. The support that we received was just enormous after 9/11 and is still -- is still there for us now.

PATTI QUIGLEY, HUSBAND DIED ON 9/11: It will be with us tomorrow.

ZAHN: Patti -- Exactly. Patti, do you ever really let go of the anger? QUIGLEY: Yes. A couple of the hills today did it for me.

RETIK: Absolutely.

QUIGLEY: Yes, there are times, I mean I pick certain places to do that and working out, biking up these hills, that's a place where I get rid of some of the anger.

ZAHN: And I think people find it quite remarkable that you would turn your -- your collective pain into helping women halfway around the world.

When you think about what the two of you consider accomplishing, don't you kind of have to pinch yourself and say that I'm really doing this?

RETIK: Well, if it all gets done, and we raise the amount of money that we're hoping to raise, then it will all be worth it.

We were just overcome by the difference between what it was we were receiving after our tragedy and what the widows in Afghanistan have or don't have. And if we can raise money and awareness for the plight of those people, those widows, then every step of the way will be worth it, every pedal, every hill.

ZAHN: Your generosity of spirit...

QUIGLEY: And it's only the beginning.

ZAHN: Only the beginning. People will be happy to hear that, because your efforts certainly are going to make a difference.

Ella, I look to you and I think that not that long ago, it was very difficult for you to deal with your own grief. And now, you've returned to a bereavement camp and you're helping other children heal who have lost their parents.

Are you surprised you've come this far?

ELLA THOMPSON, COUNSELOR, CAMP COMFORT ZONE: I don't really remember much about what happened afterwards, but I think in retrospect, it -- the distance I have come is just vast, because you know, I went from losing someone to now helping other kids get through their pain.

And it's just -- it's a healing process for me. In all honesty, I think it's helped me more than anything else, because I can really focus on helping them get through their grief, and it helps me through mine.

ZAHN: And Jason, you come at this from a slightly different perspective in that you were one of those first rescue workers called on the scene to Ground Zero, one of the youngest firefighters in that capacity.

And -- and you saw the endless weight of these families as they turned to newscasts and listened to radio shows to see if their loved ones survived. Reflect on that experience and how that changed you.

READ: Well, I think that it was when we arrived early on the morning of the 12th, the men that I was working with -- that I was working with were the best guys in the business.

And so the strength that I witnessed at Ground Zero fostered a relentless spirit to search for loved ones, tirelessly and unselfishly, so that we could bring about closure to families and so that we could help America move on.

And we thought we were doing a good job -- we did the best job that we could. And it was just very dynamic to see so many men and women from all over the world helping in this collaborative effort to try to bring peace to everyone.

ZAHN: What do you think Americans should focus in on tomorrow?

READ: That America is filled with people that have a -- just a resilient -- a resilient spirit, that they're able to bounce back under any circumstances, and that it's really special. We have a dynamic -- just a really dynamic spirit that can transcend the worst of the worst.

And so to experience that full spectrum of human emotion will, I think -- which I think many of us will experience tomorrow and hopefully look back on it and reflect and remember those that were lost, but move ahead, as well.

ZAHN: You came home with the gold medal from Athens, partially fueled by what you witnessed on 9/11. And we're wishing Patti and Susan good luck as they cross their own sort of Olympic gatepost tomorrow in Boston. Best of luck to the two of you.

Donn Marshall, thank you for sharing your story with us tonight, and Ella, yours, as well. Good luck to you to all of you.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

ZAHN: In the days after 9/11, you couldn't escape the thought that everything had changed. But has it really? That and a final thought when we come back.


ZAHN: Over the course of this nation's history, there have been threats to its very survival. But an American spirit grounded in hope and the will to live in freedom has always triumphed. And since September 11, 2001, it has again.

Here's Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Almost any day for three years now, the reminders have been there: the attacks, the losses, the frightened faces. Since that September, it has seemed sometimes the world will never be quite right again.

But painted by numbers, so much in America has been right. Twenty-five million planes have taken off and landed safely, carrying a billion and a half passengers to every state and the world beyond.

The world has come here too. More than a million legal immigrants have established American homes and hopes. Fourteen million people took wedding vows; 49 million children attended public schools; 12 million young Americans arrived who will one day say that day happened before they were born.

Inside and out, Americans reveled in their country. A quarter billion visits were paid to national monuments and parks. We strolled beaches, played games, ran through sunshine, walked in rain.

America sent young people off to war. Some came back.


FOREMAN: Some did not.

We shared our burdens and our fears, our laughter, our tears.

Americans have faced uncertainty before. In the early 1900s, anarchists believed working people were being victimized by the rising power of corporations. They called for violence, and Americans feared chaos, the collapse of society.

It did not happen then, and it has not happened this time.

Instead, 1,095 times, the sun has risen and set. 12 times the seasons have shifted. Three times the harvest has come.

And once, we thought our world would never change. We were wrong. And we were right.


ZAHN: And a final thought now about the extraordinary way Americans have reacted since the events three years ago.

You can see it in the people we met tonight. Something more than just life goes on. People who did not withdraw from their horror and loss, but reached out to others. Their stories are about connecting, not dividing, about gain, not loss.

Through their examples, 9/11 stands as a starting point, a moment of pride. Americans doing what they have always done, rising from adversity to a better place.

Thank you so much for joining us tonight. Please stay with CNN this weekend as we all remember 9/11. And for all of us at PAULA ZAHN NOW, good night.


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