9/11: Reflecting on our darkest hour
The 10th anniversary of 9/11 is a solemn occasion that will be noted by all Americans. Several recent books recall the events of that day, with emphasis on heroism, courage under fire, sacrifice and loss.
WITNESSES TO TRAGEDY
In tandem with Columbia University’s Oral History Research Office, a team of editors has compiled After the Fall: New Yorkers Remember September 2001 and the Years That Followed. This compelling collection of reminiscences by survivors of, and witnesses to, 9/11 has particular resonance because the subjects were interviewed first after the attack, and then several years later, as a means of monitoring their post-trauma reactions and behavior. The project’s Q&A approach offers readable access into the feelings—both personal and political—of the respondents, including firefighters and police, surviving family members of victims and residents of Lower Manhattan.
Another volume comes from Tuesday’s Children, a nonprofit founded by the relatives and friends of 9/11 victims, which has put together The Legacy Letters, gathering missives written to the deceased victims by their loved ones. With the tragedy now 10 years in the past, these plaintive letters from wives, children, siblings and parents are nonetheless palpably moving, and the poignant expressions of love, hope, regret, sadness and longing serve as stark reminders of the human toll exacted by the brutal attacks.
In a similar vein, but with broader scope, is 9/11: The World Speaks. Compiled by the Tribute WTC Visitor Center and a project of the September 11th Families’ Association, this book compiles the thoughts, prayers and heartfelt ruminations of worldwide visitors to Ground Zero, reproducing the actual note cards and original drawings contributed by the respondents. A paperback with a somewhat ephemeral feel to it, this item is nevertheless a worthy addition to the 10-year commemoration, with a foreword by former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and a preface by Tom Brokaw.
STORIES OF HOPE
There are, of course, many noteworthy stories of survival from 9/11, but perhaps none are as stirring as the one related in Angel in the Rubble: The Miraculous Rescue of 9/11’s Last Survivor. Genelle Guzman-McMillan was employed by the New York Port Authority and was working on the North Tower’s 64th floor on September 11, 2001. Her escape from the building following the crash of American Airlines Flight 11 begins almost as a comedy of errors involving misdirection and official confusion. Alas, what should have been a fairly straightforward evacuation turned into a nightmare, and her survival was truly miraculous. She and her colleagues in fact never really escaped from the tower. The building collapsed just as they were nearing the exits, and only Guzman-McMillan survived, discovered alive amid the rubble by rescue workers more than 24 hours later. Guzman-McMillan, along with co-author William -Croyle, crafts a readable account of that ill-fated sequence of events, effectively framing the 9/11 story within the context of her own confused personal life, including her illegal status with the INS. Her story has a happy ending on many fronts and serves to remind us that hope can spring from despair.
Michael Hingson’s 9/11 survival story is unique, to say the least. A salesman beginning a normal workday at the World Trade Center that morning, Hingson happens to be blind, his guide dog, Roselle, ever at his side. In Thunder Dog, Hingson, with a deft assist from co-author Susy Flory, intersperses a solid overview of his life—blind almost from birth—with the tale of his escape from the 78th floor of Tower One. Hingson describes feeling the impact of the plane that morning, the sway of the building, the smell of airplane fuel and his subsequent evacuation with a colleague, traversing some 1,400 stairs to the tenuous safety of the chaotic New York streets below, Roselle determinedly and faithfully leading the way.
Hingson’s well-written story does more than provide a slice of 9/11 history. Readers will learn enlightening information about the blind experience in general and take away some good advice for how the sighted can better interact with their blind brethren.
Finally, the 9/11 anniversary has induced two publishers to re--release valuable books on the event. In 102 Minutes: The Unforgettable Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers, authors Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn provide a chronological narrative of the dramatic developments at Ground Zero, with focus on the stories of individuals in both towers caught up in the horror and confusion. Originally published in 2005, the latest edition features a new postscript with updates on the lives of some of the people involved in the events.
First published in 2002, when it was rushed into print as a timely summary of 9/11, the reissued What We Saw: The Events of September 11, 2001, In Words, Pictures, and Video includes the DVD from the original publication plus a new reflective essay by Joe Klein. This package cogently gathers contemporaneous news stories from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and other major print sources; the authors represented include Anna Quindlen, Maureen Dowd, Howard Kurtz and Pete Hamill, among others. There are also transcripts of CBS News radio and television coverage, and the video disc—narrated by Dan Rather—offers an informative visual look back at the terror and its aftermath.