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A Fireman's Tears

An excerpt from "What We Saw" by CBS News and published by Simon & Schuster. Byron Pitts is a correspondent for CBS News.

My colleague, Mika Brzezinski, and I ran inside Public School 89 to escape the collapsing towers. It was the first open door we came across as smoke, ash, and fire chased us up the West Side Highway. As we ran in the back door, teachers were calmly evacuating schoolchildren out the front door. Mika and I found a phone in what looked like a storage room. We stood near each other in silence as a black cloud passed by, blocking out the sunlight. In an instant, day had turned to dusk.

Mika, who had lost her shoes and was standing in her stocking feet, phoned in the first report, while I ventured outside to check on the situation. We both looked like hell. But we were alive.

When I first stepped out from the elementary school, I couldn't breathe and I couldn't make sense of what I was seeing. It looked like it was snowing. Everything was light gray -- the street, the sidewalk, and the cars, even the few people walking around. I ran back in to take a deep breath and to process what I had just seen. I peeked in on Mika, told her things looked relatively safe and that I'd be back in a few minutes.

But as I turned to leave, I bumped chest first into a fireman. He was covered from head to toe in a thick layer of ash. I offered him water that Mika had found in the storage room. He accepted it, walked in, and took off his helmet.

There was a pile of clothes in the room -- a collection of children's winter garments, perhaps for a charity of some sort. This seemed like as good a cause as any, so we grabbed a child's sweater and wiped off the fireman's face. He thanked us.

I asked him if he would mind being interviewed live via telephone for CBS News. He didn't answer so I took that as a yes, or at least not a no.

Once on the air, I asked the fireman what had happened and what he had seen. "I lost all my men. When the building came down, I got separated from my men," he said.

"How many men?" I asked.

"At least ten," he said, "and there are hundreds more missing." He asked us to call his wife to let her know that he was okay.

I asked him if there was anything he would like to say to his wife in case she's listening. "Tell her I love her. I'm okay, but I must go back and find my men."

At that moment, I noticed that the fireman was crying. He wiped his eyes with the child's sweater and then walked out the door into the darkness.

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