Untold stories of heroism from 9/11

NEW YORK - Before the attacks of 9/11, the Courtlandt Street subway stop was at the foot of the Twin Towers. This was where tens of thousands of New Yorkers got off the train to head into the World Trade Center. Joe Irizarry was the motorman who drove many of them to work.

"I have no desire to come back," Irizarry tells CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod.

Who could blame him? At 8:46 a.m. on the morning of September 11th, 2001, Irizarry had just pulled his train into the station. Seconds later, the first plane hit.

"What gave you the feeling something had gone wrong," Axelrod asks.

"It actually shook my train," Irizarry replies.

Complete coverage: 9/11 anniversary

Normally, Irizarry's train doors stay open less than 30 seconds. But on that day, he ordered them open for several minutes - to offer refuge to those escaping the toxic dust and debris raining down on lower Manhattan.

"The smoke was coming down so I had no idea what was going on in the streets," Irizarry says. "I just wanted to make sure the people were safe."

Linda DeSilvio was one of those people in the subway that day. "He really kept everybody under control and was in charge," she says. "Joe was, you know, the brick there."

With the buildings minutes from collapse, Irizarry stayed as long as he could, then gunned it out of the station to Continental Avenue - the end of the line.

"I went towards the crew room, and that's when I heard the first tower had fallen," Irizarry says. That's when Irizarry realized what he had been sitting under.

DeSilvio and Irizarry were recently reunited for the first time in a decade.

"I still get welled up when I see you," DeSilvio says.

9/11 is still taking a toll on Irizarry. "I did my job just like, just like the police officers, just like the firemen, just like the EMTs, just like those people in the towers just across the street did."

Irizarry can't do this job anymore. He officially took disability retirement - like an estimated 10,000 other scarred by that day. Irizarry suffers from post traumatic stress disorder.

"I got to live. And all those people that perished. Why am I the lucky one," Irizarry says.

"Ten years later you still have no answer to that question, right?"

"God has a reason for everything, but you just have to accept it," Irizarry says.

In New York, everyone has a 9/11 story. But even when the hero lives, it doesn't guarantee a happy ending.

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the anchor of the Saturday edition of the "CBS Evening News" and a national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley" and other CBS News broadcasts.