Extreme Heroism

09/09/2011 05:59 pm ET | Updated Nov 09, 2011

September 11, 2001, is day marked by extremes. It is hard to imagine a better example of religious extremism than the actions of the 19 maniacs who took control of the four doomed aircrafts. The devastation they rendered was extreme both in terms of loss of life and property. These were the makings of America's saddest hour. But the heroism of so many on that day also provides us with examples of the extreme good that man can do.

There are countless stories of firemen climbing dozens of flights of stairs towards the fiery unknown, certain only of their duty. There are the co-workers who refused to flee the inferno without first stopping to try to help their colleagues out of the towers. And then there's the bravery of the passengers from United Airways Flight 93, strangers who banded together to rush the cockpit, thereby -- in all likelihood -- saving either the Capitol Building or the White House.

Ten years on, one can still learn about uncommon courage by reading the stories of those who perished on 9/11. The story of Jose J. Morrero is particularly moving.

Jose served as facilities manager and fire warden for EuroBrokers in South Tower of the World Trade Center. Most office workers are familiar with the role of the company's fire safety officer. Typically, it's a collateral duty assigned to a facilities or security employee or the rare soul who volunteers for this under-appreciated role. He conducts the fire drills, updates evacuation routes, and ensures that visual and audible alarms are working -- the sort of thing most people ignore and few take as seriously as they should.

EuroBrokers was located on the 84th floor, and on 9/11, United Airways Flight 175 struck that tower below that floor and created an abyss that extended all the way down to about the 78th floor. Of course, this was no ordinary fire. Nevertheless, Jose jumped into action. Taking his role as coordinator of evacuation literally, he helped one of his fellow EuroBrokers' employees down the one remaining functioning staircase to safety. This sort of selflessness was nothing new to Jose. He was there at the World Trade Center in 1993 when Islamic fanatics tried to topple the towers the first time. "In the bombing of '93 he did the same exact thing," his wife Jodi told the New York Times. "He helped right until the end."

On 9/11, Jose was just 32 years old. He had a young wife at home, and three beautiful children. He had just saved a co-worker from having to make the decision that so many others above the impact zone had made that day: jump or burn. In less than an hour, the South Tower would collapse, killing everything around it.

Jose could have walked away from the scene a hero. But he didn't. Instead, he heard over his radio that someone else at EuroBrokers needed help evacuating. So back into the building he went, passing co-workers and others leaving the building. Back up 84 stories' worth of stairs to save another person's life.

This time, Jose wouldn't make it back out. This time, the evil wrought by the 19 zealots screaming "Allahu Akbar" would claim Jose's life. But his shining example of courage, self-sacrifice, and resolute sense of duty lives on, even a decade later. And nothing the hijackers did can ever erase that.