Captain Patrick Brown

Karate grandmaster Kaicho Nakamura opened his mail on Thursday to find a donation and a note of support, dated September 10, for an upcoming benefit tournament from one of his senior students, Patrick Brown. The generosity didn't surprise Nakamura: Brown always looks for ways to contribute and help others. A second-degree black belt, Brown, 48, is more widely known as the most highly decorated captain in the New York Fire Department. He dashed into the debris-laden cloud at the twin towers on Tuesday, along with his brothers from Ladder Company 3, just before the first tower crumbled. "He is a true hero," Nakamura said.

It's a title Brown earned over and over, but he would brush it off whenever any of his fellow students at Seido Karate expressed admiration for the many daring rescues he performed. A quiet man with smiling gray eyes, Brown "never once praised himself or gave himself credit," said his good friend and training buddy Ralph Palmieri. He'd even be a little timid in sparring, Palmieri adds, concerned that he might hurt someone. The two served together as volunteers at Seido's karate program for blind students, and Brown would tell Palmieri, "Those students are the real heroes."

For the last eight years, Palmieri and Brown had sushi lunches together three times a week after karate class. When not joined by others, Brown would bring up another area where he and Palmieri shared deep feelings: their service in Vietnam. Brown had been in the Marines, Palmieri in the Army. "He'd talk about how bad he felt about all the bad things that happened over there, and how he hoped he could do enough good to make up for it," said Palmieri. "I am sure his score is settled."