In 2001 Julia Roberts made our cut for winning her first Oscar, Barry Bonds for breaking eight baseball records and Madonna for having a sellout tour—but they all took a backseat to people whose acts of courage and compassion buoyed us in our dark hours. We salute the valiant leadership of President Bush and New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, as well as the bravery of Sept. 11 widow Lisa Beamer and the heroism of firefighters like George Johnson, Dan McWilliams and Billy Eisengrein, pictured on our cover raising the flag amid the WTC ruins.
To shed further light on the unsung men and women of Ground Zero, we tracked down some of those we saw frozen in time as photographs of the disaster began to circulate. We also revisited some of the remarkable survivors featured in our Oct. 1 issue, "America Unites." You may remember financial executive Silvion Ramsundar, 32, who was severely wounded when he escaped the South Tower with the help of a stranger, investment firm exec Doug Brown, 55. During their harrowing descent, Brown vowed to buy Ramsundar a beer someday. He made good on that promise a few weeks later, when Ramsundar visited his Summit, N.J., home (above). Brown also presented his new friend with a check for $1,500 from a fundraiser Brown's sister Ann Gail Meinster, 49, set up in Colorado.
Miami Police Lt. Al Cotera, 43 (inset), who drove 22 hours to join rescue efforts in New York City, tells us "it was the most fulfilling thing I've ever done." But the married father of three insists "the biggest effect has been on a personal level. It brought my family closer."
Perhaps we all feel the same these days. The attacks did bring us closer to our loved ones—and to our country. And in this most unsettling of holiday seasons, that's something worth celebrating.