Many New Yorkers who were at ground zero on Sept. 11, 2001, have never had the chance to personally thank the firefighters and police officers who helped rush them to safety.
But Carol Marin, a political editor for NBC 5 in Chicago, just had a surprise reunion with a first responder she hasn’t been able to forget in 19 years.
Marin, who was a CBS News correspondent at the time, was working in New York City on 9/11 and found herself attempting to navigate through smoke and debris after she rushed to lower Manhattan to cover the news.
Along the way, Marin encountered many first responders who helped her, including a police officer named Brendan Duke, who helped guide her to safety.
It’s been 19 years since Marin has seen Duke, and her colleagues at NBC 5 wanted to make sure she had the chance to express her gratitude. During a segment Friday morning where she reflected on her 9/11 experience, Marin got a huge surprise from news anchor Zoraida Sambolin, who brought Duke into their interview.
“Oh my God, Brendan Duke, thank you so much. I’m so overwhelmed,” she said.
The now-retired officer said he felt the same way.
“I feel as you do,” Duke said. “You mentioned you’re grateful but sad at what had happened, and you wonder how you made it out alive. A lot of people feel the same way — they are grateful they made it out, but it was a sad day.”
As the two spoke, they recalled how scared they were as they made their way through the chaos of the city that day.
“It was death and darkness. I remember you held my hand. I covered my face with my hand and thought to myself, ‘This is really how firefighters die: Not in the fire, but in the smoke,” she recalled. “And you were so solid and you just were wonderful.”
After Marin made her way to safety, Duke left to help someone else, and he recalled how low visibility was in those hectic moments.
“I remember walking through the cloud and I think we were taking baby steps because we weren’t exactly sure where we were,” he said. “I said to your producer, ‘I wouldn’t be able to pick you out of a lineup,’ because I really couldn’t see you very clearly.”
After that day, Marin wrote letters to both the New York fire and police departments addressed to Duke. During their chat, she asked him if he ever received them.
“My commanding officer did get that letter, thank you very much. And I think I reached out to you once maybe the following year, just to make sure that everything was ok. Kind of selfishly, I was wondering how your health was and eventually how it was going to affect my health too,” he said.
Both Marin and Duke both said they were in good health, despite breathing in all sorts of debris from the towers’ collapse.
“I’m so glad you are alive and well and so grateful to you for your presence of mind and for your enormous care,” Marin said.
Duke, who is retired and currently homeschooling his three children, ended the conversation with a powerful statement that Marin wholeheartedly agreed with. “I hope people never forget what happened that day,” he said.