Those old enough can complete the sentence “I remember where I was when__________ happened?
Those of the “Greatest Generation” relive Pearl Harbor in their minds. Baby Boomers relate to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The memory knows without explanation . December 7, 1941. November 22, 1963.
Here’s one. September 11, 2001.
Not even close. Almost anyone over the age of 25 has the answer. In fact, it has been abbreviated to 9/11.
For me, I was walking out the door when Charlie Gibson of ABC’s Good Morning America program broke in to report “a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center in Manhattan.” I (along with the highest levels of the government and military) did not think much about it. A small plane had a terrible accident.
I went to Atlanta Bread Company for breakfast. I sat at the second table from the east entrance against the front window.
I was doing my planning when it all came to a halt. A man (who I did not know) passed my table saying, “another plane hit the towers.” That’s when I knew the world had changed.
Over the succeeding two decades, much has been written, filmed, discussed, and dismissed. But, a new book puts flesh and blood on the images, accusations, and sound bites.
Zuckoff is a professor of journalism at Boston University and the author of many books. This is the fourth book I have consumed which are compelling narratives that shackle attention and transport you to a different world).
On the date which is the subject of the book, he was a journalist for the Boston Globe. He wrote the book because two of the planes turned to lethal missiles originated from Boston Logan Airport.
He gives vivid descriptions of the hijackers and their preparations and motives. He makes evil breath as they spit the hatred for anything good out of hearts bent for evil.
But what makes the book stand out is the people who lived, hoped, died, and are remembered. He describes the lives of the people on the planes. A pilot who gave a plot to Cambodians to farm died in one of the cockpits. A young woman heading to her parents to tell them the news they would become first-time grandparents never completed her trip. A family buckled into seats headed for Disneyland never entered the gates. Each victim who boarded the four planes that morning believed they would see another day.
Zuckoff describes the tense moments of frantic phone calls back to loved ones with a single message of “I love you.” You can hear the screams in his prose. You can feel the fireball sweep through your own life as words dot the page.
There are apparent stories of the heroics of those who worked the towers, such as Ladder 7 from FDNY. You read the stories of Dr. David Tarantino, a Navy doctor who and survived a closed parachute crash as a college student. He wedged his legs under a desk to leg press a colleague to safety as the Pentagon burned. Elaine Duke suffered third-degree burns over her body. The fire was so intense it fused had the zipper of her jacket to her skin. (Ladder 7 got her down.)
Then, there are the twists I have never heard. A man who had gone to make a sales presentation in the towers survived only to discover his sister and niece were on one of the planes the brought the towers down.
While some will criticize the book as maudlin, sentimental, or concessive, Zuckoff’s account of the day describes the confusion we all felt. Were we at war? What is next? What happened to those people?
I appreciate the personal touch of the narrative and its comprehensive stories of the people who died and lived (many with survivor’s remorse). He puts the humanness to a dark day encircled with black smoke. It was a terrible event that changed our nation forever. But, it was a terrible event that happened to people, average people, people with plans, dreams, and families.
In the appendix, he provides a complete list of all those who lost their lives on 9/11 along with a detailed timeline of events.
I listened to the audio version of the book, narrated by the author. At times, while driving, I had to pull to the side to wipe away tears. It was that moving a book.
Every year on 9/11, there is a memorial service at “Ground Zero” at which the names of victims are read. I haven’t paid much attention. This year, due to this book, I will listen to each name, think, and pray for all those people.
Alan Jackson sings a song called Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning? This book stabs you in the heart with the sentiment of the song and all the emotions associated with a beautiful blue morning that turned the world black.
Few books frame familiar events with such pathos. I cannot recommend it highly enough.