That is not to say that each and every one of us was not somehow affected. But beyond a shadow of a doubt, there are those who were profoundly impacted more deeply than the rest of us because they were there at those sites, both during the time of the attacks and in their aftermath. On year later, while we all still struggle to understand what happened it is even more important to use this time to remember and recognize the uncommon bravery and spirit of those who were there - those who lived to tell and those who didnt.
Some of the voices of that latter group surface in a deeply moving new book entitled “Among the Heroes: United Flight 93 and the Passengers and Crew Who Fought Back“ by Jere Longman, a reporter for The New York Times who the story of Flight 93 from the ground in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and the author of the acclaimed “The Girls of Summer: The U.S. Women‘s Soccer Team and How It Changed the World.“
This is a story of an incredibly valiant struggle and final goodbyes of a group of men and women whose destiny it was to be on a flight that was believed to be headed for a collision with the White House after being overtaken by four terrorist hijackers as part of the three orchestrated attacks on September 11.
Because of the struggle initiated by the passengers against the hijackers, their mission failed. As the newly defined Secretary of Homeland Defense Tom Ridge said at a special ceremony to honor the planes passengers just three days later, what they did undoubtedly saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. “They sacrificed themselves for others - the ultimate sacrifice,“ he stated. “What appears to be a charred, smoldering hole in the ground,“ said the Pennsylvania governor, “is truly and really a monument to heroism.“
The entire truth about what happened in during the struggle between those aboard Flight 93 died with those who went down in the crash, but author Longman has done as thorough a job possible in piecing the tale together, bringing together hundreds of interviews and countless pieces of documentation for what will most likely be the definitive accounting of this part of the September 11 tragedy.
As the book opens, he sets the stage:
“The sky on September 11 dawned cerulean blue, one of those unblemished skies that often appeared in late summer after heavy rains or hurricanes -- rinsed, cloudless, apparently cleansed of tumult. It was a week past Labor Day. The U.S. Open tennis tournament had just concluded, school was back in session, football season had begun, baseball had entered its stretch run. Casual fashion had faded to basic black. Autumn had arrived in the New York area, if not by calendar‘s decree, then by the urgent feel of resumption. Summer had been shaken away like sand from a beach towel.
Dressed in his navy blue uniform, the four gold stripes on the sleeves denoting his rank as captain, Jason Dahl entered United Airlines‘ flight operations center in a secure area of Terminal A at Newark International Airport. It was approximately seven a.m. on this Tuesday. Check-in occurred an hour before each domestic flight. The previous day, Jason had traveled to Newark from his home in the Denver suburb of Littleton, Colorado. He would pilot Flight 93 to San Francisco, having traded a trip later in the month for this one. This was a long-awaited week. Jason would stop by and see his mother in San Jose, California, during his layover. In two days, he would return home to begin his plans for the weekend.
This would be the fifth wedding anniversary for Jason and his wife, Sandy. It was the second marriage for both, and Jason liked to do things in a big way. He had proposed to her on a cruise ship, hiring a plane to fly over with a banner that read SANDY, I LOVE YOU SO MUCH, WILL YOU MARRY ME? For their honeymoon, he told Sandy to pack for another cruise. They ended up in Tahiti. When he called on Monday night from Newark, Jason told Sandy that he had bought her a new Volvo. There would be more gifts. When it came to birthdays and anniversaries, Jason possessed the flamboyance of Monty Hall introducing a showcase on Let‘s Make a Deal. He and a family friend, Jewel Wellborn, had arranged for Sandy to receive a manicure, pedicure, facial and a massage on Friday afternoon. While she was distracted in her bedroom, deliverymen would arrive with a baby grand piano programmed with Jason and Sandy‘s wedding song. That night, Jason would cook a gourmet meal. On Saturday, he and Sandy would fly to London to celebrate their anniversary. “He was so thrilled, planning every intricate detail of surprise,“ Wellborn said.“
It is this sort of personal detail - evenly distributed among all of the passengers and crew - that makes this such a moving account. The same care is given to building the best chronology possible- largely based on crew communications and passenger cell phone calls - of the takeover and the resistance to it. Quite simply, it is impossible to put down, and humbling, to say the least.
At a time when the rest of the United States was able to do little more than watch with uncomprehending horror, there were a small group of true patriots and heroes aboard an airplane, just as there were at the other two attack sights. They did the work for us that day, and forever. Our gratitude cannot be expressed deeply enough, and accounts like this one confirm that.