By Joel Meador
There are moments in history that are so unique, so significant, so universally-shared, that they touch everyone old enough to have witnessed them. We remember where we were, what we were doing, who we were with, and how we felt. We are indelibly marked, forever changed, and we never forget.
Depending upon your age, your first such event may have been the JFK assassination, the moon landing, or the death of Princess Diana. Mine is the space shuttle Challenger disaster on Jan. 28, 1986, two days before my tenth birthday. At the time, no one could have known that just 15 years later an event so unprecedented, so unthinkable, and so tragic, would shock the entire world, seemingly spinning the Earth off its axis and shattering any illusions of safety -- the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
I was 25-years-old and working at one of Kentucky's state parks. Shortly before 9 a.m., work stopped and everybody rushed to the lobby. We huddled around a large, bulky TV and watched as smoke spilled from a large, gaping hole in the uppermost floors of the North Tower. Like virtually everyone around the world, we watched in confusion, wondering how a plane, let alone a passenger jet, as some early reports claimed, could crash into this impossible-to-not-see building on such a beautifully-clear day. Was it a navigational system malfunction, perhaps something awry with the plane's autopilot?
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Then, at 9:03 a.m., the truth revealed itself as Flight 175 appeared from the side of the TV screen and exploded into the second tower. A massive fireball erupted, and we knew this was not an accident; it was terrorism. Devastation followed devastation that morning, horror stacked upon horror, as the towers fell, the Pentagon struck and Flight 93 crashed in a rural Pennsylvania field. One by one, the attacks peeled away our illusions of innocence like the skin from an onion. The halcyon days of the past were over; the world, and our collective view of the world, would never be the same again.
Much has been written over the past 18 years about 9/11, but none have told the story of that day as powerfully and intimately as the recently-published "The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11" by Garrett M. Graff. Sure to become an essential addition to the literature of 9/11, it is the only panoramic account of the day told by the people who experienced it.
Utilizing never-before-published transcripts, original interviews, recently declassified documents, and over 500 oral histories from government officials, first responders, witnesses, survivors, friends and family members, it tells the complete story of that day, chronologically, in their own words, and unlike any traditional narrative could do.
Readers are likely to experience a range of emotions throughout its over 400 pages, and it has garnered praise from well-known historians including Lawrence Wright and Michael Beschloss. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Jon Meacham hailed it as "history at its most immediate and moving." NPR wrote, "Visceral ... I repeatedly cried ... This book captures the emotions and unspooling horror of the day." With "The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11," Graff has created an enduring portrait of a day that changed the world forever, a day that the world will never forget. Check it out at the Hopkins County-Madisonville Public Library.