Sunday, March 23, 2008


AMONG THE HEROES: United Flight 93 & The Passengers & Crew Who Fought Back by Jere Longman.

From the book jacket:

On the evening of September 14, as the sun set over the flag-draped county courthouse in Somerset, Pennsylvania, fifteen hundred mourners gathered together as Governor Tom Ridge presided over a memorial to the passengers and crew of United Flight 93. In the hushed twilight, amid the toiling of bells, a candle was lit for each victim, and the flames were used to light smaller candles held by townspeople attending the service.

The hijackers had failed in their mission, Ridge said. They had not destroyed our spirit. They had rekindled it. By fighting back against the terrorists, the passengers and crew had undoubtedly saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. "They sacrificed themselves for others - the ultimate sacrifice. What appears to be a charred, smoldering hole in the ground," said the governor, "is truly and really a monument to heroism."

Of the four horrific hijackings on September 11, Flight 93, which crashed into a field outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania, resonates as one of epic resistance. A number of passengers phoned relatives and others on the ground to tell them of the hijacking and what they planned to do about it. Their battle to take back the plane brought consolation to countless confused and grief-stricken Americans. At a time when the United States appeared defenseless against an unfamiliar foe, the gallant passengers and crew of Flight 93 provided for many Americans a measure of victory in the midst of unthinkable defeat. Together, they seemingly accomplished what all the security guards and soldiers, military pilots and government officials, could not - they thwarted the terrorists, sacrificing their own lives so that others might live.

The culmination of hundreds of interviews and months of investigation, AMONG THE HEROES is the definitive story of the courageous men and women aboard Flight 93, and of the day that forever changed the way Americans view the world and themselves.

I'm sure we've all read different stories about September 11. We've seen the pictures of the towers and the Pentagon over and over. We've seen pictures of some of the victims. We've heard some of their stories. I knew the aunt of one of the men killed in the towers, so I've read more about him.

When the first stories about this flight began to emerge, I wondered about the people on the other 3 flights. Why did these particular passengers fight back and not the others? Or did the others? We can't know what happened on the first 3 flights. Circumstances were different - this flight had fewer passengers, one less hijacker, probably a much less-experienced hijacker-pilot, information about the previous crashed flights, and more time to react.

In this book, Mr. Longman personalizes the passengers and crew of Flight 93. He tells their individual stories and the stories of the people they left behind. Phone calls from the plane are detailed. Also included are photos of all aboard, donated by their families. What's not included is an exact account of what happened on that flight.

No one knows for certain what transpired before the plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. I'm sure everyone has heard "Let's roll" as said by Todd Beamer right before the end of the flight. We'll never know exactly what happened. Did the passengers get into the cockpit? Did they gain control of the plane? All we have are snippets of telephone calls, the transcript of the plane's cockpit voice recorder, and stories of witnesses to the crash itself. What we do know is that this plane was headed back to Washington, aimed at the Capitol Building or the White House, and that by the actions of these heroic people, many other lives were spared. EVERY passenger and crew member on this flight was a hero.

This was a difficult book to read. These people now have faces and voices and stories. They're not just "names" anymore. I can't begin to imagine what they must have been thinking and feeling aboard that plane. Mr. Longman deserves much credit for his work on this book.


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