Many of us remember where we were when United Airlines' first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
Others are too young to remember the confusion, followed by pure horror at the realization of what happened in New York that day between 8.46 am and 09.03 am.
The attack by the Islamic group Al-Qaeda, which killed nearly 3,000 people and injured more than 6,000 people, shocked the world and is still the deadliest terrorist atrocity on American territory to this day.
Journalist Garrett M. Grath has devoted much of his career to the ramifications, consequences and decisions that have emerged from the country's response to 9/11, from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to its impact on national security and the plans of the US government on Doomsday.
The South Tower (left) of the World Trade Center (left) burst into flames after being hit by hijacked flight 175 of United Airlines when the North Tower burned after an earlier attack by a hijacked plane in New York City on September 11, 2001
But his new book, The Only Plane in the Sky, focuses on the men and women who experienced the unprecedented drama of that terrible day.
It is the very first extensive oral history of people directly affected by the tragedy – from ticket agents who unknowingly introduced terrorists on flights, to the first responders to the Twin Towers and their terrified relatives.
In conversation with FEMAIL, Garrett said that seeing 9/11 through the lens of others has forever changed my understanding of that day & # 39 ;.
& # 39; This probably sounds stupid afterwards, but I really wasn't prepared for how emotional writing this book would be, & # 39; he admitted.
& # 39; I cried almost every day when I was writing the book last summer about these intimate stories of the worst day you can imagine.
Journalist Garrett M. Grath has devoted much of his career to the ramifications, consequences and decisions that resulted from the country's response to 9/11. His new book, The Only Plane in the Sky, focuses on the men and women who experienced the unprecedented drama of that terrible day
& # 39; Stories about the loss of loved ones on 9/11 – parents who lose children, children who lose parents, brothers and sisters, the last phone calls from the hijacked planes or who are trapped above the attacks in the World Trade Center. Those stories are just heartbreaking. & # 39;
Garrett added that he was also struck by the inspiring way in which ordinary people throughout the country & # 39; came to help – from rescuing colleagues & strangers at the attack locations to volunteers rushing in to help.
& # 39; In the book, Ileana Mayorga, who worked for a volunteer agency in Arlington, Virginia, where the Pentagon is located, talked about how undocumented people started calling and asking for help, & # 39; he remembered.
& # 39; She explains how suddenly the telephones rang and said, "This is the country we have chosen. No one will destroy our country."
The attack by the Islamic group Al-Qaeda, which killed nearly 3,000 people and injured more than 6,000 people, shocked the world and is still the deadliest terrorist atrocity on American territory to this day. Pictured: hijacked United Airlines flight 175 (left) flies to the twin towers of the World Trade Center shortly before entering the South Tower (right)
Garrett added that he was also struck by the inspiring way in which ordinary people throughout the country & # 39; came to help – from rescuing colleagues & strangers at the attack locations to volunteers rushing in to help. On the photo: the wreck of the Twin Towers days after the attack
& # 39; They would say: & # 39; I am not legal in the United States. Do you think they will accept me to do volunteer work? & # 39; Given the political environment of today, I found that so inspiring. & # 39;
The book was born from an article that Garrett wrote in 2016, which was published on the POLITICO website on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the tragedy.
Extract from the only plane in the sky: the first plane
Richard Eichen, consultant, Pass Consulting Group, North Tower, 90th floor: I said: & # 39; OK, I better figure out how badly I am injured. & # 39;
I felt that my face was completely bloody. The left side of my head was open and I could put my hand in it – I could feel my skull. I could actually feel the bone.
It stung, but it didn't really hurt, because I think I was in shock. Then I said: & # 39; OK, I have to do something here. & # 39;
Harry Waizer, tax adviser, Cantor Fitzgerald, North Tower: I had no idea how badly I was hurt. I thought, I have to go down, I have to go to the lobby and I need help.
As I walked down, I caught a glimpse of my arm and saw a blackened skin flap hanging down. It was almost obvious and said to myself: & # 39; Okay, you don't want to look at that again, just look at the feet, look at the stairs, keep walking.
The piece, entitled & # 39; We are the only aircraft in the sky & # 39 ;, was an oral history of those experiences with President Bush on Air Force One on September 11, 2001.
It went viral, shared more than two million times and quickly became the magazine's most-read article of all time, and has since been chosen as a movie for MGM Studios.
It was the & # 39; overwhelming & # 39; reaction that encouraged Garrett to go deeper and get an idea of what it was like to live through the day.
& # 39; That first day it was published, on a Friday, dozens of readers started sending me their own stories and memories of that day, then they were scores, and by the end of the weekend, hundreds, & # 39; Garrett recalled.
& # 39; Of course I heard from people in the United States, but also from readers from all continents except Antarctica, from readers in Spain, Poland, Egypt, Russia, Thailand, Korea and Australia, among others.
& # 39; I ended up spending days interviewing the piece, including 20 minutes on Radio New Zealand, until then never thinking about what 9/11 was for those in the Pacific, for whom 9/11 actually 9 / 12 was – that when she woke up, all these tragedies had occurred & night, the attacks, the collapse, everything.
& # 39; Similarly, I could never have imagined how the events could have hit someone far away in a country like Poland – how the attack on us felt like an attack on them. & # 39;
He told how two reactions from readers in particular came to mind – one from a mother, a veteran, who wrote to him that she had two children, seven and nine, and had printed the article and set it aside so that when her children were old enough to read it, she could explain & # 39; why mommy went to war & # 39 ;.
The only plane in the sky was born from an article that Garrett wrote in 2016, which was published on the POLITICO website on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the tragedy. Pictured: the New York skyline before 9/11, with the Twin Towers
Another young veteran of three broadcasts – two to Afghanistan, one to Iraq – wrote to tell Garrett that he had only been in high school on 9/11 and had fought that day in the two wars without ever the trauma of the nation felt completely comprehended on 9/11.
& # 39; I was dumbfounded; What should it be like to be one of the soldiers or women who are fighting abroad today and have no memory of September 11 itself? & # 39; Garrett told FEMAIL.
Extract from the only plane in the sky: the second plane
Joe Graziano, fireman, Ladder 13, FDNY: We boarded a truck and it seemed like the city was opening for us. We arrived there in no time. We were six and I was the only one who came back.
John Napolitano, a father: I knew that my son (firefighter Lt. John P. Napolitano) was at a rescue company and that he probably went inside. I wanted to tell him: & # 39; Don't be a hero & # 39 ;. After several attempts to reach him – busy, busy, busy – I called my house to see if my wife spoke to my son.
I said: & # 39; The phone is busy and I want to tell him that he does not take any risks when he goes down. & # 39; My wife cried and said: & # 39; He's already there. & # 39;
John P. Napolitano, 33, was a husband and father of two young daughters. He died during the 9/11 rescue.
& # 39; The totality of that reader's response and the idea of helping present and future generations understand this day led me to expand that article in this book.
Garrett worked for two years with oral historian Jenny Pachucki, who works at the 9/11 Museum in New York and has dedicated her career to stories about the attack.
Together they collected around 5,000 relevant oral histories that had been collected and archived throughout the country for the past 17 years, listening to and carefully read to identify the voices and memories that now appear in the book.
Garrett said that compiling made him realize how much we actually don't remember about 9/11 – or how much we mistakenly remember.
& # 39; We don't remember – and many of us never knew in the first place – what it was like to walk down the stairs at the trade center, & # 39; he explained.
& # 39; We don't know what it was like to stand outside in the square and realize that people were jumping.
& # 39; We don't know what it was like to feel the rumbling of the towers collapsing, to pry the loose concrete out of our mouths, to find people we didn't know if we would find.
& # 39; We do not remember how scary it was to see smoke rising from the Pentagon, the center of our army, nor the fear in the faces fleeing the White House or Capitol Hill.
& # 39; We remember the deep silence that had fallen over America that afternoon because all the nation's planes were grounded, schools and companies were released early and the country gathered from coast to coast around televisions.
Retired fire department commander Joseph Curry barks orders to rescue rescue teams while clearing debris that was once the World Trade Center on September 14, 2001 in New York City
The Woolworth building peers between two flexible steel barriers that once served as the walls of the North Tower
& # 39; But beyond the sights, the smells, the sounds, there are also bigger lessons about that day. Above all, we forget how innocent the US – and the world actually – was on 10 September. & # 39;
Garrett said he received about 200 memories of that day directly, of whom he met a lot, and was also struck by the number of friends, colleagues & acquaintances who came to him with their stories after they heard he was working on it .
& # 39; Sometimes it was remarkably intimate and heartbreaking experiences I had no idea about, even though I had known some of these people for years, & # 39; he remembered.
Extract from the only plane in the sky: the first plane
Detective Steven Stefanakos, Emergency Service Unit, Truck 10, NYPD: You could imagine the madness of the scene.
Det. Sgt. Joe Blozis, crime scene investor, NYPD: Thousands of people were running. The shock was engraved on their faces.
Dr. Charles Hirsch, chief medical examiner, City of New York: I will never forget to see an airplane engine in the middle of West Street and then an amputated hand next to it.
Alan Reiss, director of the World Trade Center, Port Authority: A detective, Richie Paugh, and I went to the Plaza. We saw the cut in the tower and people jump.
It was really not safe to be there, but we see a wheel of an airplane and this detective said: & that is proof. We have to take it back. & # 39;
I said: & # 39; Are you crazy? & # 39; Richie said: & # 39; No, that's it & # 39; and drags this thing back to the Port Authority police.
& # 39; All in all, The Only Plane in the Sky is based on 480 oral histories. It was difficult because we tried to distil and connect different stories into a single story – so there are all sorts of important details, amazing stories, and critical insights that I couldn't incorporate.
& # 39; I'm sure another author could sit down with the same huge pile of oral histories and create another great book that didn't have any overlapping quote. & # 39;
Garrett added that it was an incredibly humble experience to hear people's stories and he never failed to be struck by the long effects of the attack and how it changed people's lives forever.
He said: & Jimeno, one of the Port Authority's two police officers who were rescued after being trapped under the fallen towers, will have had a long, hard way back – he knows he will never have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) & # 39; & # 39; but the perspective he has on life and the gift he understands that he has been given.
& # 39; He and his sergeant, John McLoughlin, were literally the only two people rescued from under the Twin Towers. He literally dropped 220 stories about the World Trade Center on top of him, and he lived to talk about it, and today he talks to classes, the army, prisoners and even addicts about overcoming obstacles in life.
& # 39; He says, "We all have our World Trade Centers. It's how you deal with the crises in your life that matter". & # 39;
Garrett said the most fascinating moment for him came on September 11 between 8:46 am and 9:03 am – the time between when American Airlines Flight 11 crashes on the North Tower and when United Airlines Flight 175 crashes on the South Tower.
Garrett admitted that he was surprised – and encouraged – by the collective willingness of people to share and relive their trauma. On the photo: a flower at the monument for the victims of the 9/11 attacks on Ground Zero in New York
& # 39; America watched the first crash and shrugged, & # 39; Garrett said. & # 39; That day I quote one of New York's harbor captains, Peter Johansen, who said his passengers all thought there was an innocent explanation for the crash.
& # 39; He said: & # 39; Frankly, I think most people thought it was a navigation accident. The reason I say that is because our ferry went on to Pier 11, the Wall Street terminal, and there were about a hundred people on board. They all got out and went to work that morning. As they walk away, envelopes and letters float from the sky. "
The Only Plane in the Sky will be published on September 10, 2019
& # 39; The people in the south tower stayed behind their desks. People in Manhattan continued commuting. America's innocence did not end at 8:46, it ended at 9:03.
& # 39; Today you of course hear a counterproductive effect of a motorcycle in Times Square or a helicopter crashing on top of a New York building, and everyone attacks by default until the contrary is proven. & # 39;
Garrett admitted that he was surprised – and encouraged – by the collective willingness of people to share and relive their trauma.
& # 39; Everyone I wanted to interview for two years jumped to participate, even when a stranger contacted them out of the blue and asked them to thoroughly and extensively discuss the worst day of their lives, & # 39; he said.
& # 39; Even reading the stories of others sometimes felt overwhelming heartbreaking and intimate. I cannot fathom the pain, physically or emotionally, so many of them experienced that day and afterwards.
& # 39; Together I think their power is a testament and inspiration for the resilience of the human mind. As we say about 9/11, we must never forget. & # 39;
The Only Plane in the Sky will be published in hardback on September 10, 2019 by Monoray.
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