When you think of heroes, Superman may come to mind. With superpowers like flying and leaping tall buildings in a single bound, it’s easy for Superman to accomplish heroic deeds.

Did you realize, though, that you can be a hero even if you don’t have any superpowers? It’s true! According to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, a “hero” is “one that shows great courage.”

The word “hero” comes from the Greek word heros, which means protector or defender. Every day, there are “ordinary” people who act like heroes when they courageously defend or protect others.

On September 11, 2001, thousands of ordinary citizens became heroes in the wake of the terrible terrorist attacks that occurred at the World Trade Center in New York City, at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and outside Shanksville in rural Pennsylvania.

These terrible suicide attacks caused unspeakable damage, as well as thousands of deaths. Nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks, including 2,753 victims at the World Trade Center attacks in New York City.

As soon as the attacks occurred, thousands of emergency personnel, including firefighters, police, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and paramedics, responded to the scene to help rescue as many people as possible. Unfortunately, many of these first responders became victims themselves. In total, 343 firefighters, 60 police officers and 8 EMTs and paramedics lost their lives on 9/11.

In the days, weeks, and months after the tragic 9/11 attacks, people from around the country came to New York City to volunteer their time and skills in the rescue and clean-up efforts. These volunteers included ironworkers, engineers, heavy machinery operators, firefighters, police officers, construction workers, EMTs, medical workers, and dozens of other types of specialists.

The workers were also aided by the largest deployment of working dogs in U.S. history. Over 400 search and rescue dogs helped to search for survivors, as well as identify those who didn’t survive the terrorist attacks.

Although the 9/11 attacks represent one of the darkest days in U.S. history, the heroic responses of so many regular citizens were remarkable. In a time of great fear and sorrow, thousands and thousands of people set aside their own wants and desires to volunteer their time and skills to help others.

Even though superpowers might make being a hero easier, every day there are people who selflessly volunteer their time and skills — and sometimes even put themselves in harm’s way — to protect and defend others. These everyday heroes might not have superpowers, but they’re still superheroes to those they help.

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    • What a nice surprise to get TWO awesome comments from you today, Kerrick Elementary! Thank you for visiting our HEROES Wonder and for sharing what you liked best about it! :-)

  1. I was very moved by the video. No sirens blowing, no honking cars, no screaming people. That is what has been most disturbing for me, all this past week. I couldn’t figure it out until I saw this video.

    Beethoven’s was perfect.

    So many heroes surround us daily.

  2. I AGREE yesterday was sad day for all of the Americans, but no. Not all heroes have to have superpowers. A firemen is an average person, but to risk his life in a burning tower? That is a true hero.

    • What a great comment, Teddi! Thank you for taking the time to think about true heroes and for sharing your feelings with your friends here in Wonderopolis! :-)

  3. Hi, Wonderopolis. I really liked your video because it helped me learn more about what happen on 9/11. I am really sad about those people who died or someone they knew that died. I read a book that said 9/11 was the scariest day to America and I think that’s true. I have no questions.

    • Hi, Viraj! Thank you for sharing this comment with us today and for letting us know that you learned some new things from this Wonder of the Day®!

      The events of 9/11 were very sad and very scary, we agree. There were many heroes on that day and in the days, weeks, months and years that followed. Sometimes, when we feel really sad about something, it helps to talk to a grown-up (like a parent, teacher or guidance counselor) about it. Grown-ups understand how we feel (they were kids once, too!) and they can help us feel better by listening to us. Thanks for being such a GREAT Wonder Friend! :-)

  4. The video just touches my heart. I was looking at this for a paper and it will really help me put emotion in it.

    :( :( :( :( :(

    • We can tell you are a super caring Wonder Friend, Firebolt 101! Thank you for sharing your comment with everyone in Wonderopolis today and for visiting this Wonder!

    • Thank you for sharing your family’s reaction to the events of 9/11, Rithik! We think everyone who was old enough to remember has their own personal story about where they were when they heard the news, or how they dealt with the feelings and emotions that followed. We appreciate you sharing your comment with us today!

    • Thanks for sharing your comment, Dark Master! We are glad you enjoyed WONDERing about super powers today– we Wonder if you have one in particular that you’d like to possess?! :)

    • Thanks for asking, Tacoria! A very talented team put together that video for the 9/11 anniversary event held in New York. While we didn’t create the video, we are so glad to learn about the heroes who helped save so many lives, during 9/11 and throughout history. :)

  5. I thought this was interesting because it showed how people were courageous during times of distress.

    My students are using their chrome books to do this. I am so excited.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your comment with us, Mrs. Coleman! We agree with you, people are heroes because they show their bravery during uncertain times.

      We are jumping for joy knowing that our Wonder Friends are WONDERing from Chrome books! How neat! Technology rocks, and so do you! :)

  6. I thought 9/11 heroes were very courageous because they saved all of those people. I have a connection I volunteer like all of the people did.

    • Thank you for sharing your comment today, Ameerah! We are so glad you included your very own connection to this courageous Wonder! Volunteers are heroes, too! We’d love to hear about how you share your skills, talents, and time! :)

  7. I love how you told me on how you don’t need super to be a hero. I have a connection to this because I was born 1 year and 1 day after 9/11 and my mom and I try to be heroes on my birthday and help out like the people in 9/11.

    • You’re right, Kayla! Super powers include being kind and helping others- you can be a hero by doing your part in your community! Thank you for telling us about the super things that you and your mom do to help others! We’re so proud of you! :)

  8. Can even a kid be a hero? Also I have a connection my birthday is on Veteran’s Day so on my birthday we celebrate all the heroes who fought for our country.

    • Kids sure can be super heroes, Melisa! We are so glad you told us about your SUPER connection to this Wonder today, it’s very thoughtful of you to share your birthday with those who fought for our country! There are so many brave men and women in our world! :)

  9. I thought it was interesting when it said that many people died on 9/11.That reminds me of the phone number 911. My grandpa is a fireman he showed me all the stuff they use to put out fires I even got to ride in a fire truck it was awesome.

    • Wow, it sounds like your grandpa is a hero, Emily! We are so glad to learn about heroes in your life and in our world. Emergencies happen around the clock and we are so lucky to have great people who are trained and available to help! :)

    • You’ve got it, Wade! We are so glad you shared your comment and learned about those brave folks who help one another in times of trouble. :)

  10. I thought what I read was really interesting because it told me what happened in 9/11 that was very tragic that day but what I really liked about the reading was the facts about 9/11 how many people help clean up and find people that made.

    • Hi there, Macie! Thanks for visiting us here at Wonderopolis today! :)

      While tragedy occurs around the world, it’s important to remember all the brave, talented folks who share their skills to help others. We are glad you shared what you liked from this Wonder. We bet you would be a great volunteer and can be a hero in someone’s life! :)

  11. I thought this was interesting when it said, in the day week week month after tragic all people came to New York to help like engineers, heavy cops firefighter EMT and others. I have a connection to this when the house went burning to flames. They all came.

    • Thank you for sharing your connection and what you learned from this courageous Wonder, Marvin! What occurred in New York on September 11, 2001 was terrible. There were thousands of people who helped others in need – there were heroes all over the place! We hope you’ll think about how you can be a hero for someone else, even if it’s helping a classmate up if they fall on the playground. :)

  12. I thought this was an interesting site, because it talked about how the New York firefighters helped the 9/11 attack Sept., 11, 2001 is was sad when the 9/11 happened it was courage I’m learning about your site in 5th grade.

    • Thank you for sharing your comment today, Kadynce! Courage comes in all forms, and heroes come in all shapes, sizes, and ages! We are so glad you learned about the heroes who helped others on September 11, 2001. Courage is a brave thing to have! We hope to Wonder with you again soon! So excited you’re WONDERing in 5th grade! :)

  13. I thought it was good because it talked about super heroes. I have a connection on it and a person was about to walk in the without looking and me and other stopped him before him because there was a car speeding and could have been hit.

    • Thanks for sharing your comment today, Connor! We are thrilled to learn about your very own super hero act! You helped prevent someone from getting hurt- way to go, Connor! We are so proud of you and your friend for keeping others safe in your area! You rock! :)

  14. I think that this is so sad to hear about how these horrible people came to destroy America. I feel like I want cry right now.

    • Hi there, Liberty, thanks for sharing your thoughts. We’re sorry to hear that you are feeling sad; sometimes it helps to talk to an adult or friend you trust when you’re feeling down. It’s important to remember that there are great, WONDERful people in this world, just like you, who help others and make a difference. We hope you are feeling better, Liberty! Come back to Wonder with us again! :)

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, Jadan! We are glad you’ve been WONDERing about all the brave folks in the world, including those featured in our Wonder about heroes. We think lots of people are heroes– you probably know some heroes in your neighborhood or school! We hope you’ll share this Wonder with them! :)

  15. wow!

    I know what they mean by heroes without powers
    I live in a undeveloped country and heroes with lots of crime and heroes stop that crime sometimes.

    P.S. I hope the emphasis tag worked I didn’t know whether to put a closing tag or not.

  16. Hi wonderopolis. WONDERful day isn’t?. We learned that 343 fire fighters and 60 cops and 8 (EMPS) died on 9/11. We also learned not all super heroes have powers. You can be a super hero just saving somebody without super powers. Well time to go WONDERopolis. Bye.:-)

    • Yes, it is a WONDERful Day, Evan W and Ethan B! It sounds like you learned a lot from this Wonder! We are so glad to have you WONDERing with us today! We hope you have a WONDERful Day! :-)

    • That’s right, Navya! The events on September 11, 2001, were very very bad. We’re heartbroken that these terrible events occurred, but so thankful we have brave heroes among us to help us through tragedies. Thank you for stopping by Wonderopolis!

  17. So many people risk their lives for us daily. To think that to be a superhero you have to have powers is crazy. To be a true superhero is to risk something for another and to inspire people. I like how this video captured that, without people crying and screaming.

    • Thank you for leaving such a thoughtful comment, Skyler! We’re really glad you stopped by Wonderopolis and hope you have a WONDER-filled week ahead! :)

    • I really enjoyed that video and to be honest I almost started to cry because during the 9/11 attack people lost Moms, Dads, Sisters, Brothers,Aunts, Uncles Cousins, Grandmas,Grandpas, Friends and others they really love and miss.

      • It was a really tragic day in our history, Anyah. We’ll always strive to remember happy memories of the loved ones who passed away. Thank you for WONDERing with us. :)

    • Thank you, Cat! It is a great video, but we can’t take credit for it! State Farm and Spike Lee deserve those accolades! Thank you for WONDERing with us today! :)

    • There’s so many great ones that it’s hard to choose just one, Jordan! We’re sure glad you’re WONDERing with us! Have an awesome day! :)

    • That’s true, Ashton! Instead of special superpowers, they possess courage, determination and selflessness! :) Thanks for sharing your comment with us! :)

  18. hero’s dont need superpowers to be heroic i mean look at all the soldiers and fireman out here risking their lives for us if u ask me thats a hero

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Do all heroes have superpowers?
  • What is a hero?
  • Can you be a hero?

Wonder Gallery

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Try It Out

Did you enjoy today’s heroic Wonder of the Day? Learn even more when you ask a friend or family member to help you explore the following activities:

  • Take some time today to talk to others about their memories of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Where were they when they heard the news? How did the news make them feel? How do they feel about it now? In what ways did the events of that day change their lives? Discuss the everyday heroes that came to the rescue of thousands of people that fateful day. What recent events around the world have spurred people to act heroically? How do you think you might react in a similar situation? What help might you be able to provide in an emergency?
  • You don’t need a major world event to be a hero. You don’t even need superpowers. Some people can become heroes with the simplest of actions.  You just need a willingness to help others in need. For example, Rosa Parks became a heroine of the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. when she refused to give up her seat on a public bus. By sitting down, she stood up for civil rights — a very courageous…and thus heroic…deed. Think of some everyday emergencies that arise from time to time. If you keep your eyes open, you’ll notice that there are a lot of people around you who need help. Even spending time with an elderly neighbor or carrying someone’s groceries might make you their hero! If you keep an open heart and an open mind, you’ll soon learn that you, too, can be a hero — an everyday hero. With or without superpowers, the world needs more heroes. Will you be the next one?
  • Chances are that you may have had a personal experience with an everyday hero at least once in your life. Have you ever had an emergency that required others to help you? Have you ever been part of a large-scale tragedy, such as a severe weather event? Think back over your life and try to identify at least one everyday hero you’ve encountered in your life. Then write a brief description of the event and how that person’s actions made you feel. Share your story with that person, if possible. If not, share your story with a friend or family member.

Still Wondering

Visit Smithsonian’s History Explorer to check out the September 11, 2001 lesson and learn about the outfit used by a firefighter on September 11, 2001.


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