The Only Plane In The Sky, An Oral History of 9/11

by Garrett Graff

The Only Plane In the Sky should be required reading for all Americans. We all know what happened on September 11, 2001, and I bet most you remember where you were when you first heard the terrible news. I was in Seattle, Washington at a seminar, scheduled to return home the following day. I was mesmerized and stunned by the news as we all were. In a sense, we all lived through that day, but you will further appreciate the depth of the loss when you hear from the people who were most directly impacted by the worst attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor.

This book is available in print and audio. I highly recommend the audio version because you hear the voices of so many different people and how the day affected each of them. You will hear from:

  • Employees working in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon – some of them made it out and for those who did not, you hear their last messages to family members
  • A woman in labor who delivered her baby in New York City during the chaos and uncertainty that marked that day
  • Firefighters, like Paul McFadden, who lost 46 friends in a single day
  • President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, with their disbelief, fears, and reactions throughout the day and
  • So many other people throughout NYC and the world who watched in horror as the Twin Towers fell.

The story unfolds with a sequence of contrasts. The blue, sunny skies turned black. The noise of the city turned silent. One woman was terminated that morning from a business located in the Twin Towers – she left upset and fearful about paying her bills – but within hours, she was thankful. Others weren’t so lucky like Sean Rooney, VP of Risk Management of Aon Corporation. His wife said, “We met when we were only 16, at a high school dance. When he died, we were 50. I remember how I didn’t want that day to end, terrible as it was. I didn’t want to go to sleep because as long as I was awake, it was still a day that I shared with Sean.”

The work of the air traffic controllers that day is not something we necessarily remember, but their work was incredibly important, as all planes were ordered to land. “To put 4,500 aircraft on the ground in places where they were not supposed to go – at the same time that the military is trying to get airborne and control the chaos – is an incredible feat of air traffic controllers and air traffic managers coordinating that.”

The book was written by Garrett Graff who was masterful at describing how luck or fate decided whether so many lived or died. We all make choices every day that impact where we are at precise moments in time. Should I sleep in today? Maybe I will stop for coffee on my way to work. My son forgot his backpack, again, so I need to drop it off before heading in. Is traffic fast or slow? How long will it take me to find a parking spot? Some people survived on 9/11 day because of these kinds of choices, and others were not so lucky.

The kindness of humanity on that day amazes me. Firefighters and police officers ran into burning buildings, and even after it was understood that many of them would die, they stayed. Co-workers put themselves in harm’s way to stay together. Random people offered assistance to strangers, and some of them lived and some of them died as a result of their generosity. The race, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, religion, and nationality of people that day didn’t matter. Political party affiliation didn’t matter. As people, we stuck together.

In the words of one first responder, “We took the time to shake each other’s hands and wish each other good luck nad “Hope I’ll see you later,” which is especially poignant for me because we all had that acknowledgment that this might be our last day on earth and we went to work anyway.”

You will learn so much from this book. There are details that I never knew, and others that I simply forgot. It is a tough, emotional read, but the stories are important to hear and for me, listening helped to honor those who lost their lives on 9/11.

Discussion Questions:

Have you read The Last Plane In the Sky, and if so, what did you think about the book?

Have you visited the 9/11 monument in New York City, and if so, did the monument capture the emotional impact of the day?

What other books have you read that really made you think about other people?

Published by It's A Wonderful Book

I am a lawyer, wife, mom, dachshund-lover, and avid book-reader. I read to learn about new people and places so that I can grow and adapt to our ever-changing world. Please join me on this journey!

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