NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — It was something America had never seen nor heard, and after that dark day nearly 10 years ago, the country struggled to regain its normalcy and a sense of security.

Less than a week after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, David Letterman came back on the air.

“If we are going to continue to do shows I just need to hear myself talk for a couple of minutes and so that’s what I’m going to do here,” Letterman said when he returned. “We are going to try to feel our way through this and we’ll just see how it goes — take it a day at a time.”

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The jokes were few and subtle – it was still not a time for laughter.

“How? What? Does it seem real at all?” Letterman said.

He tried to give America a feel for what it was like in the city those first few days after the attacks.

“It’s terribly sad here in New York City — you can feel it, you can see it,” Letterman said.

His guests that night included Dan Rather and Regis Philbin but it was the host’s monologue that grabbed the audience.

“We were told that they were zealots fueled by religious fervor and if you lived to be 1,000-years-old will that make any sense to you,” he said.

Thunderous applause filled the studio as Letterman praised policemen, firefighters and Mayor Rudy Giuliani – who had previously been the butt of many of his jokes.

“Watch how this guy behaved, watch how this guy conducted himself, watch what this guy did, listen to what this guy said. Rudy Giuliani is the personification of courage,” Letterman said. “To run the city in the midst of this obscene chaos and also demonstrate human dignity, my God, who can do that? That’s a pretty short list.”

The most sustained applause that night came for America.

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