Garrett M. Graff created a heart-wrenching book with The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11. Since the author intended this to be an oral history, I listened to the audiobook which has a large cast of narrators. About five minutes in, during one of the actual recordings from that day, emotion overcame me. Everything I felt on the morning of 9/11 and in the days immediately following surfaced often during the audiobook.
Graff gathers eyewitness accounts from all the relevant sites from 9/11. He includes New York, Washington, DC, the airplanes, Shanksville, PA, and with the President in a few places. He also includes some lesser-known places. For example, the US military ships in the Persian Gulf. And the personnel at the locations where Air Force One stopped that day with former President George W. Bush. While the most riveting accounts are those of a handful of World Trade Center survivors, every piece of this puzzle is important and affecting.
I was an adult when 9/11 happened. As such, I had a busy life and even with a 24-hour news cycle, I didn’t see everything. So, this book introduced me to new information even 20 years later. I also like how Graff looks back through the eyes of students telling about their experiences on that day.
Of course, as I listened, I thought about where I was on that day. I thought about my husband traveling to Annapolis, MD a few days later. And how scared we were. I thought about our cousin who did several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a member of the Army.
The book also brings up a plethora of questions about how the US and the World manage terrorism. And those questions remain relevant today, particularly because the US left Afghanistan just as I finished the book. Watching the coverage of the events of the last few weeks dovetailed perfectly with Graff’s coverage of the precipitating events. The audiobook reminded me why we’re there, and what we hoped to accomplish.
But most of all, I remembered how everyone pulled together emotionally after 9/11. We gathered, hugged each other, cried, and worried about the state of the world. We drew comfort from our politicians, even if we didn’t completely agree with them. It was so different from today’s world in crisis.
Graff doesn’t address the vast changes to the political landscape or whether the mission to Afghanistan was worth the cost. Those topics are for other books. But I still thought plenty about the ongoing issues. And Graff just launched a new podcast discussing topics around 9/11 not included in the book. I plan to listen and learn.
I recommend The Only Plane in the Sky if you’re looking for a companion to the upcoming 20-year remembrance activities. Listening beforehand will add depth to all the images, video, and audio available in the media.
Pair with The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump by Andrew McCabe. Listening to Graff’s book made me want to revisit this excellent memoir. I also suggest the story titled The Things They Left Behind in Stephen King’s short story collection, Just After Sunset. The whole book is terrific, and this story is particularly touching.