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CNN Live Event/Special

9/11 Hero: Discussion With Eric Jones

Aired September 11, 2002 - 12:42   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Candy Crowley has a look at one of the heroes at the Pentagon. His name, Eric Jones.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The medal for valor is presented to Mr. Eric Moorland (ph) Jones for performing acts of heroism and sacrifice.

ERIC JONES, 9/11 HERO: You hear people calling out. They are right in front of you. You pick them up and carry them out. There really wasn't much thought involved.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The easiest part of being a hero was running in to save people out of the burning, smoke-choked Pentagon. The hardest part is everything else.

JONES: You sort of have to let it in in small segments, just to stay sane, and I am sure it will eventually all click, but, you know, right now I am just trying to get a good night's sleep and figure everything out.

CROWLEY: A volunteer firefighter and grad student at George Washington university, Eric Jones was headed to class when he saw the smoke, pulled into the Pentagon parking lot and ran into the fiery building.

JONES: I think everybody was afraid a little bit, but when you hear people calling out, and yelling out for help, you kind of put that on the back burner.

CROWLEY: He doesn't know who he helped carry out the pentagon. Honestly, he doesn't even remember how many people he helped. He does remember the heroes around him.

JONES: One of the most striking things was just seeing all these people running back in, risking their own lives, time and time again, to save their fellow workers or strangers that they didn't even know.

CROWLEY: After those first few hours, they didn't find anyone else alive. Eric helped search for days before going home. Then, a firefighter friend called to see if he wanted to go to New York.

JONES: You know, for three days, not finding anybody alive, I think it just would have taken just one person up in New York to sort of make everything come together and be OK.

CROWLEY: But, in New York, too, it was too late. Eric did what he could, helping remove the wreckage and the carnage. And after five days, he came home again. Eleven months later, Eric returned to the Pentagon crash site for the first time.

JONES: I'm just trying to get a point of reference. This is the impact area right here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just to our left.

CROWLEY: He barely recognizes anything.

JONES: This is how I'd like to remember the Pentagon. I don't want to remember it how it was. It is beautiful. I wonder if they will let us go inside.

CROWLEY: It does not, mercifully, look anything like it did that day.

JONES: Can we walk down?


JONES: I think this is where -- and this was the original corridor? I can't believe how much they have -- how far they've come.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He could not seem to get enough of this brightness, this newness, this rebuilding.

CROWLEY (on camera): You see, it is getting back together.

JONES: It is.

CROWLEY: It must make you feel better.

JONES: Yes, definitely, it does.

CROWLEY (voice-over): In these past months, Eric Jones has carried the Olympic torch, been awarded the Medal for Valor and written about the people he calls "my heroes." He also dropped out of school, had trouble sleeping and concentrating, still struggles with what he's feeling.

(on camera): Anger?

JONES: Of course. Anger, shock. I mean, how are they going to come to our country and hijack our planes, and you know, frustration. I think every possible emotion that you could think of, except maybe joy.

CROWLEY: Eric is back in school this fall. He wants to be a doctor. Maybe he can save somebody. There is joy in that.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Eric Jones is at Pentagon again today. He is with our Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you very much, Judy. Eric is right here with me. What is going through your mind on this day exactly a year later after you made that decision, park your car and run inside?

JONES: It is obviously a very emotional day, being back here, seeing a lot of same people that I worked with that day and following days and family members. It is obviously very difficult.

BLITZER: When you ran inside to rescue people, was that just your adrenaline, your instincts? Did you think about it, or you just moved?

JONES: I think I just moved. Every I was with, we were just going back in, and you could hearing people calling out, you could hear people banging on yelling to saved. It just seems like the right thing do. There wasn't really another option.

BLITZER: But did you think about the danger, that you could have been engulfed in those flames yourself.

JONES: A little bit, and we were all scared. But couldn't run away and turn away from these people.

BLITZER: Had you had ever done anything remotely similar to that in your life?

JONES: No, certainly not on this scale, nothing even close.

BLITZER: And so and your friends decided this was just something you had to do. And how many people did you and your buddy actually get out of there.

JONES: I think initially we figure we carried out four or five people. But most of them survived. I think all that we carried out survived.

BLITZER: They all survived, the ones that you managed to get out of there.

JONES: Right.

BLITZER: And so over this past year, you have had a lot of time to think about what happened, and your life has obviously changed dramatically. Talk a little bit about that.

JONES: Well, as the year has gone on, I remember less the negative, because obviously, it was most horrible thing I think anybody could even imagine.

But as time goes on, I remember the just incredible acts of courage that people exhibited from all walks of life, military and civilian, and right here behind me, and it's those acts day after day that sort of keep me going and give me faith and humanity and faith in my fellow Americans, and I've had a newfound love of our country based on my experiences and weeks following September 11th.

BLITZER: Last week you went back to school.

JONES: Right.

BLITZER: Are you going to get a masters in public health.

JONES: Right.

BLITZER: How difficult is to get back into academia after what you've you gone through this past year?

JONES: It's very difficult just trying to sit in class and focus and stay focused on the lecture, and I have a hard time trying to relate to academics right now. Everything is still so fresh in my mind. It wanders every 20 or 30 second.

BLITZER: You told our Candy Crowley that you still have nightmares.

JONES: They are getting less frequent. Certain things trigger them and certain smells. The smell I think is something that I think will be with me forever. So certain scents just bring it back.

BLITZER: The burning stench that you smelled, is that it?

JONES: That certain foods, coleslaw that I know the rest of the workers were talking about, the similarities. But coleslaw, for some reason, brings back a lot of memories.

BLITZER: All right, Eric, I want to thank you, thank you for all of the work you did. I know you've got a huge future ahead of you, and good luck to you.

JONES: Appreciate it.