The Ultimate Good Turn: A Story of 9/11
A heroic court officer is remembered by his sister
On the morning of September 11, 2001—the day of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history—court officer Mitchel Wallace was heading to work in lower Manhattan when the first plane struck the twin towers of the World Trade Center nearby. “He had taken the train in from Long Island and was coming up from the subway when the first plane hit,” recalls his sister, Michele Miller. “So he started running towards the towers, and he met up with a bunch of other court officers. Since he was also an EMT [Emergency Medical Technician], that helped in terms of him just being able to spring into action.”
In the chaos before the towers fell, rescue workers from all over the New York area set to work doing what they could to help as many people as possible. “They were setting up triage stations all over the place,” Miller told Good Turns recently. “The court officers found each other, and a bunch of them just kept going in and out of the buildings. Mitch went in many times and brought many people out. He was helping out mostly the injured that couldn’t run out on their own.”
“Don’t forget that people at that point had just gotten to work, so many of them were just going up the elevators or the stairs,” Miller said. “Now all of a sudden there’s this horde of people starting to come back down. So people were being trampled and stepped on, and there were older people who weren’t as able to run.”
“Everybody does hang onto the fact that he was a hero, and something good came out of it”
“There’s a picture, Mitch is kneeling on the ground helping somebody, a woman who had tripped on the way and she had fallen down and was definitely injured,” Miller says. “He is kneeling down and helping her, and he bandaged her up and got her into an ambulance. We’ve actually met her. That was the last person we believe he helped. After that he ran back in again and that’s when he didn’t come back out.”
“That’s when the building collapsed.”
“Nobody thought the building was going to just come down the way it did,” Miller says. “Nobody in their right mind would have run back in. But they figured they had all the time in the world, the fire was way up in the 90s.” (The plane had hit the tower around the 93rd to 99th floor.) “So people were running back in thinking they could run up the stairs and bring people down. But unfortunately, for whatever reason, it just came straight down like that. I think people to this day can’t even imagine how it imploded. In their mind that was never the scenario.”
While Wallace made the ultimate sacrifice, giving his life to perform a good turn, Miller says it was not unlike his actions throughout his life. “Nobody was shocked at all when they heard that it was him,” she says. “He was always the one, when he was working as an EMT, when he’d hear something on the scanner he would just run out with his bag. That was just his nature, to help.”
“Most people were running out, and these types of people were the ones that were running in. You have to have a different mindset if you’re automatically looking to help out and do what you can. Most people would be like, I’m getting the hell out of there, I’m getting as far away as possible. That was not his mindset. His mindset was, I’m going in, I’m going to help.”
Miller lost her younger brother 17 years ago, but his actions that day have helped her live with his memory, she says. “You go through so many different emotions. You’re upset, then you become angry. Because you say, Why did he have to be the one to go back in? There’s a little bit of anger that you feel, which I think helps you get through it. Then, once the anger subsides, you realize you’re talking about a hero who did an amazing thing. We don’t have a number of how many people he helped, but there was a long time frame” in which he helped people escape the building. “He was a hero in that regard. There were obviously many heroes that day that saved numerous people. If it wasn’t for them, the number [of deaths] would be much higher.”
“It’s seventeen years, and it’s hard to measure in terms of time. Seventeen years is so long. Then I look at my kids, who were three and seven. Now they’re like adults. There’s major time elapsed, but it feels like it was yesterday,” Miller says.
“It affected our family in horrible ways, but I guess everybody does hang onto the fact that he was a hero, and something good came out of it. There were many people that were fleeing and not going back, and the fact that to him it wasn’t even a thought, that was not an option. You need that mentality to be in a profession where you’re going to help people, putting that first. You can only hope to be like that, but you don’t know until the situation arises.”
Wallace found out, but at a terrible cost. At Good Turns, we salute him, and all the other heroes of that day.
Posted September 7, 2018