Rudolph Giuliani was a hero before he was a punchline. Lisa Beamer was a wife and mother before she became a symbol of Sept. 11, and though her celebrity passed, her widowhood cannot.
In the aftermath of the planes falling from the sky, America and the world were introduced to an array of personalities.
Some we knew well, but came to see in different ways.
Others were thrown into public consciousness by unhappy happenstance.
The Associated Press profiled those public figures then and now:
GEORGE W. BUSH
THEN: The 43rd president of the United States, Bush was informed of the 9/11 attacks while reading “The Pet Goat” to second graders in Sarasota, Florida. He spoke to the nation that night and visited ground zero three days later, grabbing a bullhorn to declare: “I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people – and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.” His support in the polls reached 85 percent.
SINCE: The War on Terrorism begat the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Bush’s demand that the Taliban “hand over the terrorists, or ... share in their fate.” He had long retired to oil painting in Texas when Navy SEALs killed bin Laden, and when President Joe Biden pulled U.S. forces from Afghanistan. In August, he said he was watching developments there “with deep sadness.”
THEN: While the Secret Service played “hide the president” with Bush on Sept. 11 — he was shuttled to military bases in Louisiana and Nebraska, for fear of terrorist attacks — his vice president hunkered down in a “secure, undisclosed location,” a bunker inside the White House where he helped direct the government’s actions. Cheney became a fierce advocate of an unbridled response to the attacks, using “any means at our disposal.” He pushed for the 2003 war in Iraq. The interrogation technique known as waterboarding was a proper way to get information from terrorists, he said -- not torture, as its critics have long insisted.
SINCE: After five heart attacks and a 2012 heart transplant, Cheney has lived to see his daughter, Liz, win his old congressional seat in Wyoming and become GOP persona non grata because of her criticism of Donald Trump.
THEN: Mayor of New York City, he was a hero of the moment -- empathetic, determined, a focus of the nation’s grief and a constant presence at ground zero. “The number of casualties will be more than any of us can bear ultimately,” he said on Sept. 11. Oprah Winfrey pronounced him “America’s Mayor”; Time magazine declared him “Person of the Year.”
SINCE: After suggesting that his expiring term be extended due to the 9/11 emergency -- an idea that was roundly dismissed -- Giuliani went into private life, but not all that private. He launched a profitable security firm and ran abortively for the Republican nomination for president in 2008. His adventures as a supporter of and agent for President Donald Trump are well documented, and resulted in the suspension of his law license in his home state.
THEN: New York City’s police commissioner. Bald and stocky, he never left Giuliani’s side in the days after Sept. 11 -- and followed the mayor after he left office, joining the Giuliani security firm.
SINCE: President George W. Bush appointed Kerik as Iraq’s interim minister of the interior in 2003 during the Iraq war, and nominated him to head the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2004. He withdrew from consideration when it was revealed that he had employed an undocumented worker as a nanny and housekeeper; there followed a series of legal troubles, including convictions for ethics violations and tax fraud. He was pardoned by President Donald Trump in 2020.
THEN: A former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell was confirmed unanimously as secretary of state in 2001. He would go on to make a persuasive case before the United Nations for military action against Iraq, claiming that Saddam Hussein was building weapons of mass destruction. The war was waged, Saddam was toppled and killed, Iraq was destabilized; no such weapons were found.
SINCE: Powell has consistently defended his support of the Iraq War. But the lifelong Republican had little use for Trump, endorsing Hillary Clinton in 2016 and speaking in support of Biden at the 2020 Democratic convention. He left the Republican party after the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.
THEN: After 9/11, Lisa Beamer became the face of the day’s mourners, and a reminder of the day’s heroism. Her husband, Todd, a former college baseball and basketball player, is believed to have led other passengers in an attack on the hijackers of United Airlines Flight 93 that brought the plane down before it could crash in Washington. His exhortation of “Let’s roll!” became a rallying cry. His widow made 200 public appearances in the six months after the attacks.
SINCE: Lisa Beamer co-wrote a book, “Let’s Roll! Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage,” and established a foundation in her husband’s memory. Donations dwindled, and Beamer receded from public view. The couple had three children, and all attended Wheaton College, where their parents met. All are athletes, like their dad: Dave, 3 years old when his father died, was a football quarterback; Drew, who was 1, played soccer, as has Morgan, born four months after the attacks. Morgan was her father’s middle name.