Thousands of people rightly, justifiably, ran away. Hundreds of others ran into two burning buildings and never came out.

Hero is a word, a title, too often used. “A person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities,” the dictionary says. It’s a fairly vague definition.

But those people, firefighters, police, EMTs, Port Authority officers, who ran toward World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, are, always will be, heroes. So are the 40 members of Flight 93, who forced a plane into the ground in Shanksville, the first swing back in the war on terror.

They are all our heroes. America’s heroes. That will never change.

Among the victims that day were 343 firefighters, 23 NYPD officers, 37 Port Authority officers and others.

One of the 34 NYPD officers was Moira Smith, a 38-year-old mother of two. The cousin of Montour County Commissioner Trevor Finn, she was the only female officer killed that day.

She was out of the buildings after evacuating some from the towers. She went back in, as heroes do.

Four years later President George W. Bush recalled that Smith “she ran toward danger once again, into the burning towers of the World Trade Center. A broker she helped to safety remembers her steady blue eyes and her even voice. The next day’s papers carried an image of Moira helping an injured man out of the tower, before she rushed back in to save others and the tower collapsed around her. One of Moira’s colleagues said, ‘She could have saved herself, but nothing would have stopped her saving one more person.’”

The images of the firefighters climbing up dozens of flights of stairs with their heavy gear to get to those trapped in the upper floors stay with us. Their look of determination and get-this-done attitude should still serve as a driving force for us all to get the job done when things get hard.

The cost, for too many that day, was everything.

Pausing to look back this weekend on their ultimate sacrifice, part of the grieving and memorializing should be a renewed and continued recognition of what they gave up.

President Bush, looking back on the attacks three months later, said the event was “a memory of tragedy and shock, of loss and mourning. But not only of loss and mourning. It’s also a memory of bravery and self-sacrifice, and the love that lays down its life for a friend — even a friend whose name it never knew.”

Bravery. Self-sacrifice. Love. All heroic traits we should always admire.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.

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