- The Washington Times - Monday, December 10, 2001

Thursday's National Charity Awards Dinner, "A Tribute to the Heroes of September 11," drew a crowd of more than 1,500 to the Washington Hilton & Towers to thank the heroic men and women who responded to the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Alternately joyous and reflective, the evening featured standing ovations for the night's honorees as well as tearful tributes to those who died while saving others. Several of the honorees held up photographs of fallen comrades in poignant remembrance of those who lost their lives
A number of entertainment personalities from the past were present to lend support, including ex-Charlie's Angel Cheryl Ladd , television's Efrem Zimbalist Jr. , Ron Masek of "Murder, She Wrote" and venerable crooner Pat Boone , who appeared at the first awards dinner in 1979.
Dinner co-founder Doug Wead said the low percentage of high-kilowatt stars was no accident.
"Normally, we have lots and lots of celebrities," Mr. Wead said of the event, which has been held sporadically over the past two decades. "This year, the people involved said, "We want the firefighters and police; they're the celebrities."
They certainly were, judging by the number of impeccably dressed children who rushed to get their pictures taken with the assembled rescue workers during a pre-dinner reception.
Dan O'Neill , president and co-founder of Portland, Ore.-based Mercy Corps, took comfort in the trend.
"If there's anything redemptive to be pulled out of the ashes, this is it," said Mr. O'Neill, whose organization provides relief aid to Afghans caught up in the fighting in their country. (Mercy Corps, Childhelp USA and WE Care were among the charities honored throughout the evening. Each received a portion of the proceeds from the $1,000 seats at the dinner, to be used for fund-raising purposes or to reward dedicated workers.)
Mark Victor Hansen, editor of the "Chicken Soup" book series, said rescue workers "decided spontaneously to be heroes" on that fateful day.
"We're profoundly thankful for people who would risk their lives and go the extra mile," said Mr. Hansen, who is working on a new book, "Chicken Soup for the American Soulfl" which is inspired by the attacks.
Todd Barb, a firefighter and paramedic with Fairfax Station 5 in Franconia, recalled the horror of answering the call to action September 11.
"It's something you never want to see again," Mr. Barb said. "It really hit home these people didn't have a chance."
"We're always the unsung heroes blue-collar workers doing a job," he said.
Miss Ladd, ever-blond and trim in an elegant turquoise gown, respectfully disagreed: "They've always been my heroes."
Mr. Zimbalist extolled a nation that has united in the three months since the attacks.
"It's extraordinary how the country has turned around," he said. "If we stay this way, we're up for great things. We don't learn from luxury and ease."
Mr. Zimbalist, 78, was one of the few guests who could remember the last surprise attack on our nation. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, he joined the Army and served five years.
Gary Smiley, a Staten Island firefighter who also was on duty during the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, said he hasn't had a good night's sleep since the recent attack.
"My 11-year-old son is petrified of me going to work now," said Mr. Smiley, who escaped the badly damaged American Express Building that day after heeding a distress call from fellow workers trapped nearby.
Since that time, he also has experienced the warmth of his fellow New Yorkers.
"I've never been prouder to live in America," he said. "People hug me, thank me. I wish I could repay them."

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